Divergent is an unoriginal, decently cast blockbuster, with a strong central character and a lot of forgettable stuff along the way. In other words, it’s basically your average superhero movie. The thing is passable enough to be engaging, disposable enough to skip if the desire isn’t there.
Adapted from the popular Veronica Roth of the same title, Divergent is set in a dystopian future, Chicago to be specific, where we’re told in narration that a great number of horrible things occurred outside the city walls roughly a century ago. To keep society together, five factions were formed based on virtues and skills. Basically, you have your farmers, soldiers, scientists, judges and your general goodwill givers. This final group is called Abnegation and features our lead Tris (Shailene Woodley). Though all five factions live peacefully as a collective, they also reside and work within their subsections.
Tris is unsure about being a member of Abnegation. She is kindhearted, but also isn’t quite quick to lend a hand to the needy. This is vital since Tris is on the verge of a major decision; which faction will she join? At a certain age, all citizens take a test that concludes which path your life will go down. It’s basically the sorting hat from Harry Potter, except for a few things. One, a person is allowed to choose a different way. If you feel in your heart, despite all signs to the contrary, that the simple life of a farmer befits you, follow that journey. However, once you’ve made the decision, you can never turn towards another faction. Why this is the case isn’t well detailed in the movie, to some annoyance, yet it’s established from the get-go as a rather dire outcome.
Then there’s the mysterious thing called divergent, where one doesn’t properly fit into any of the regimented lives. It’s talked about in whispers, with talk even buzzing about that some are being rounded up and put down. Well, our dear Tris turns out to be divergent, a fact she’s told to hide.
Whoa boy….there’s a lot of plot to this movie and this is pretty much the opening twenty minutes.
Long story short, Tris decides to leave her family and join the soldiers, known for wild, reckless behavior. She struggles to fit in, keeps her divergent nature quiet and hovers on the border of being kicked out of the faction.
Wow, so that’s maybe an hour in now. There are also cute boys, teen angst and weak stabs at societal commentary. Divergent is a kiddy-pool in regards to said commentary, while it does a lot of other things pretty well. Woodley is good as Tris, using the same insular emotional beats she brought to The Spectacular Now. Tris would seem meager if not for her actions, which works for the character as Woodley develops who she is as a person. This isn’t the screaming kind of rebel, rather a quiet, follow my lead type finding her footing.
Love interest Four (Theo James) is hunky and nicely not brooding. James himself is strange to watch, as my wife described him, he looks like Dave Franco if he were his brother James’ size. His sparks with Woodley are easy and natural. The remainder of the supporting cast has its share of successes, especially the briefly seen, deeply felt choices of Ashley Judd and Tony Goldwyn as Tris’ parents. Kate Winslet is a bit wooden as the antagonistic head-scientist (?), an easy and uninteresting move.
Director Neil Burger (The Illusionist) does a passable job, par for the film. There are missteps (a goofy initiation zip-line) and decisions that land (a series of nightmare sequences that has a compelling simplicity to them). Burger knows to set his sights on Woodley and have her convey much of the drama, and since she’s the best element of the movie, it all resonates as, well, passable.
Divergent opens wide all across Seattle today.