Every movie studio has remained in search of the ultimate young adult property to turn into a cinematic hit ever since Twilight took a bite out of the box office.
The search intensified more since the arrival of The Hunger Games, a series that’s shown what can happen when you marry the right property with the right filmmaker and cast.
Now comes Divergent, yet another dystopian tale of young people seeking their place in the grander scheme of things that opens today (March 21) on screens nationwide.
Thankfully, it’s a lot more Hunger Games than Twilight, bringing an original premise, a charismatic cast and a director who understands where the film’s strength lies.
For the record: yes, Shailene Woodley (Beatrice) is that plus. The long setup certainly isn’t a friend.
Therein lays the primary problem with Divergent. It’s not a major one, and it’s noticeable in first films in an expected series. Filmmakers show as much loyalty to the source material as possible and usually the result provides an excess footage.
From there it’s grin and bear it or check out. In this case, if audiences decide to stick it out director Neil Burger’s (The Illusionist, Limitless) interpretation of Veronica Roth’s novel offers a payoff.
It arrives in the form of a call for individualism melded with the idea of shared sacrifice. Beatrice (Woodley) lives in a community divided into five factions after a war that’s referenced more than once in the film.
She comes from the group that runs the government and specializes in public service, helping one another and their fellow humans. She and her brother are due to take their respective tests to determine which faction they will join.
Their parents (Ashley Judd and Tony Gwynn) hope they choose their home path.
However, when Beatrice learns that she has no true faction – she’s divergent – she’s at first scared. Eventually, she uses that fact to determine she’d be best as part of Dauntless, the society’s warrior faction. Her brother, Caleb, chooses the Erudite faction – the intellectuals. Both leave their parents devastated.
Beatrice quickly takes to Dauntless, but her introduction goes as expected. She meets her clique of friends. She is abused by her class’ bully and she finds a romantic interest in Four (Theo James). Of course she soon learns the group’s secrets and how plans to overthrow her society’s government are coming to fruition.
Burger and his production designer Andy Nicholson create a vision of Chicago reminiscent of the cities in the original Planet of the Apes films.
But it’s the mood that complements the performances. Woodley, best known for an award-winning effort in The Descendants, brings both innocence and strength to her role. She is by far the best aspect of Divergent.
Ultimately, it’s a film that keeps the audience curious enough to wonder what happens in the next installment.
Director: Neil Burger
Cast: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Ashley Judd, Tony Gwynn
Studio: Summit Entertainment
Rated: PG-13 for intense violence and action, thematic elements and some sensuality.
Running time: 139 minutes
George’s rating: 3-of-5 stars
Check for theaters and showtimes at Atlas Cinemas, Cleveland Cinemas, Fandango.com and MovieTickets.com.