The cast outruns the narrative in “Divergent” the most recent installment of the young adult star-ship vehicles.
Hello moviegoers, “Divergent” like “The Hunger Games” the movie it will most often be compared to, depicts a dystopian civilization in which the post-apocalyptic environment gives rise to a sociopolitical structure that further lock citizens into a way of life that leaves little to chance, and individuality or decent is frowned upon if not worse.
‘Divergent’ (2 sweet potatoes out of four) Stars: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet, Jai Courtney, Ashley Judd, Ray Stevenson; Director: Neil Burger; Genre: Sci-Fi Action; Rated: PG-13; Runtime: 143 minutes; Opens: Friday, March 21st 2014.
Shailene Woodley (The Descendants) is a perfect fit and plays the role of Beatrice Prior as someone who has enough adolescent angst left over to challenge authority as she matures into her permanent role this segregated society. When her aptitude test produces a very rear inconclusive result which makes her divergent, she’s confused as to exactly what it means. Well, it means she fits into more than one faction; it also means she is seen as a threat to the system by provocateurs who are represented cunningly by (Kate Winslet’s) Jeanine Matthews.
The movie is directed by Neil Burger and is based on the novel from the wildly popular series penned by Veronica Roth – full disclosure – I haven’t read any of the books. Set in the future in Chicago, society has been carved up into a five-part faction system: Abnegation, the selfless; Amity, the kind; Candor, the honest; Erudite, the intelligent and Dauntless, the brave. Placement is based on the young adults’ dominant traits as determined by the previously mentioned aptitude test. However, you do have the “freedom” to choose differently if you are so inclined.
When choosing day comes, Beatrice who has been raised in an Abnegation household chooses to be brave. The Dauntless are the protectors of the community against all treats. In ‘Divergent’ the threat is internal as there is an ongoing and covert effort to ferret out divergents and manipulate Dauntless and turn them against the citizens.
Beatrice’s initiation starts, first, with a name change to Tris; then followed by a blind leap from the top of a warehouse into the waiting arms of her instructor and would-be love interest Four, who (Theo James) plays with empathy and authority. The two have instant chemistry and I wouldn’t change a thing about the way their relationship materialized. Tris (Woodley) struggles early at the academy with the physical training, but it’s her innate ability to think outside of the box that tips Four off to who she really is, and he will have to help her avoid detection as the initiation continues.
The movie is helped along with other strong performances by (Jai Courtney) who steels many of the scenes he’s in as Eric the other Dauntless instructor. Like Four, he’s charismatic. Unlike Four, he’s a hardliner and confrontational. Also, (Ashley Judd) who plays Tris’ mom Natalie, gives one of those – yeah that’s my mom – performances in defense of Tris.
But, I must say, the movie is slow through the first half and the payoff isn’t big enough. There isn’t much adventure for our heroine other that a zip-line ride over an abandoned part of the city which is symbolically effective as Tris is self-assured when she sees her reflection in a skyscraper as she zips by.
There will be many comparisons made between ‘Divergent’ and ‘The Hunger Games’ and their heroines. Interestingly, the lead actresses Shailene Woodley and Jenifer Lawrence are only about a year apart in age but where Katniss Everdeen comes across clearly as the older sister, Tris Prior comes across as the younger sister who won’t wait patiently in line until it’s her turn. I think that bodes well for the franchise, but the producers will have to raise the stakes and pick up the pace if they hope to catch up to Tris, Four and the others. I give ‘Divergent’ 2 sweet potatoes out of four.
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