“You’re different. You don’t fit into a category. They can’t control you. They call it Divergent. You can’t let them find out about you.”
Directed by: Neil Burger
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Ashley Judd, Jai Courtney, Kate Winslet
Divergent is a thrilling action-adventure film set in a world where
people are divided into distinct factions based on human virtues. Tris
Prior (Shailene Woodley) is warned she is Divergent and will never
fit into any one group. When she discovers a conspiracy by a faction
leader (Kate Winslet)to destroy all Divergents, Tris must learn to trust in the mysterious Four (Theo James) and together they must find out what makes being Divergent so dangerous before it’s too late.
As a film in the increasingly crowded market of young adult fiction, Divergent draws a considerable amount of comparisons with its close competitors, in particular The Hunger Games. Unfortunately, it falls short of Jennifer Lawrence’s juggernaut franchise in most every way, and so we end up with a firmly middling tale set in a variably well defined dystopian future. It’s not bad, per se, it’s just very much paint by numbers, and as such it will ultimately be fairly quickly forgotten.
I say it’s a variably well established future because the film does a decent enough job of establishing the basis of the factions, and the reasoning behind them, as well as the world itself, but it all gets a little confusing when we go beyond the two factions we spend the most time with, Abnegation and Dauntless. Whilst the other factions are glanced at, they’re barely fleshed out (which is not helped by each faction’s fully ridiculous name), so it gets a little messy as to which faction is which. It’s not a disaster, but the film certainly would have benefitted from a more clearly defined universe, with a bit more meat on its bones.
Lead character Tris (Shailene Woodley) has a fairly standard journey of self-discovery and self-improvement before her inevitable standoff against the government bodies trying to bring the Divergents down. Whilst you probably shouldn’t be expecting any great surprises or twists, it’s a story told well enough, and it’s actually quite entertaining at times. This is very much a popcorn flick, rather than anything particularly deep, despite Woodley’s incessantly frowny face trying to convince us otherwise.
The problem of a lack of meat on the bones rears its head again with the majority of the supporting cast, who flit in and out of the story with little meaningful input or impact, but there are a few shining lights that stand out. The villainous Jai Courtney in particular steals the show. Though it’s perhaps not the most subtle of performances, he’s great fun as the sneering and snarky Eric. Kate Winslet is also her reliably good self as the chief antagonist.
For the most part Shailene Woodley is fine, but I couldn’t quite make my mind up as to whether her character was actually particularly likeable (at least initially), and whether Woodley has the presence to pull off the role entirely convincingly. Ultimately she proves to be capable, if unspectacular, and the same can be said for her co-star Theo James (he may not have been a show stealer in acting terms, but that didn’t stop my partner telling me how much she wants to marry him throughout the movie).
There are moments when Divergent is uplifting, and begins to build momentum, but sadly this isn’t maintained throughout, and as a result it lands on the fence – it’s not offensively bad, but it’s not dazzlingly exciting either.
Fun and frustrating in equal measures, Divergent does a reasonable amount right, whilst at the same time failing to up its game to make it particularly memorable. Middling all round.
Rating (out of 5):