Divergent – 2014
Director Neil Burger
Starring Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Ashley Judd, Jai Courtney, Ray Stevenson, Zoë Kravitz, Miles Teller, Tony Goldwyn, Maggie Q, Kate Winslet, Ansel Elgort
Screenplay by Eva Daugherty, Vanessa Taylor, based on the book by Veronica Roth
Divergent is another movie covering the ever-increasing line of books made for younger readers, but enjoyed by a wide variety of persons. The series are often skewed towards women, but they have enough action for the reader to bring their male counterparts. There have been a lot of lukewarm series since they started off with a bang in Twilight, followed quickly by The Hunger Games. Mortal Instruments, Beautiful Creatures, Vampire Academy and especially The Host have watered down the dystopian premise to the point to where the expectations are really pretty low. This may be why this time around seems to work, even if there isn’t all that much going on.
The story takes place in the future Chicago after some nebulous war. Society has been reshaped into 6 factions which I would name if their names weren’t laugh inducing. The idea that a relatively peaceful society could be borne out of war that is factionalized, yet not dictatorial is more than a bit of a stretch. Nonetheless, it’s easy to accept because the pacing and acting are crisp. We get to see 16-year-old Triss (Woodley) and her brother Caleb (Fault in our Stars co-star Elgort) choose what faction they will go to. Neither of them choose their parent’s faction Abnegation (the goodly-hearted leader faction), which is apparently very weepy for her parents (Goldwyn and Judd). Triss, who experiences an anomaly prior to testing that she is told by her administrator (Q) to keep quiet, has a very tough time with her choice, Dauntless.
Dauntless are the guardians, and normally pretty bad ass. This year’s training is a little harsher and more brutal than usual, and the effect is off-putting for our hero at first. Through hard work, determination and a crush by her instructor Four (James), she makes it through.
Her brother chose to go the Erudite group, which are the brains, and somehow not running things. This is all set to change though, as the leader of the brains (Winslet) has something up her sleeve with the top brass of the Dauntless.
Where this leads is to some mid-budget action which is not as memorable as it is passable. The story is strong, but more importantly, it is a complete story. If they never made another film, it stands on its own. This is a nice change-up from the annoying trend of cliff-hanger tales started with the Harry Potter films that are broken up not as much for sake of the take as it is to make profits by extending the series.
Burger is a good director who’s done some good films (The Illusionist, Limitless), but not much work overall. He’s due to be replaced by Robert Schwentke, who made the near perfect R.E.D. and the awful R.I.P.D., and while I would like to end the sentence, I am tired of periods. It’s also a risk that they’ve picked another writer for the sequel. Having the same screenwriter for all the Twilight films turned a bad story into a decent one. Variables make this a risky venture.
Aside from that, we have a good start. It’s worth a weeknight in summer.
(***1/2 out of *****)