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'Divergent' doesn't play 'Games'

Shailene Woodley and Theo James gun for glory in "Divergent"
Shailene Woodley and Theo James gun for glory in "Divergent"
Courtesy of Lionsgate

Divergent Movie

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Thanks to authors like J.K. Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, and Suzanne Collins, young adults actually enjoy reading again. Franchises like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games have captured the attentions of readers both young and old, and, because of this, Hollywood has taken the next step and adapting these films into movies they hope these readers will like as much as the books.

Divergent, based on the first installment of the franchise from author Veronica Roth (who serves as co-producer on the film), shows that there can be a dystopian future film that's not The Hunger Games, and the film can still look fresh. Relying more on suspense and sci-fi thrills rather than arena violence and romance, Divergent, like the book, is bleak, yet riveting, and certainly keeps you at the edge of your seat.

Set in the near future in a post-apocalyptic Chicago, the city is split into five “factions” based on the survivors' personalities to keep the peace – Candor (the truthful), Dauntless (the brave), Erudite (the intelligent), Amity (the kind) and Abnegation (the selfless). Beatrice Pryor (Shailene Woodley), a youth in Abnegation, finds herself on the eve of Choosing Day, where the youth pick what faction they will spend the rest of the their lives in, torn about whether to stay with her family or be true to herself.

Luckily, there is a test that is administered to each of the children going through the Choosing, which is supposed to aide in making the choice a bit easier. However, when Beatrice goes through the test, the results are “inconclusive”, indicating she is “divergent” – something that she finds out quickly is not a good thing. Opting to join Dauntless, and calling herself Tris now, Tris soon finds herself at home with her new friends Christina (Zoe Kravitz), Will (Ben Lloyd-Hughes) and Al (Christian Madsen), even though she butts heads with faction leader Eric (Jai Courtney). However, with the help of the enigmatic Four (Theo James), Tris finds there's more going on in the factions than she ever could have expected, and that it may have to do with Erudite leader Jeannine Matthews (Kate Winslet).

Director Neil Burger finds himself right at home in Roth's dark sci-fi world. Like previous films The Illusionist and Limitless, Burger employs the same sense of urgency and suspense with stunning cinematography and focus on story he's known for, and, with the help of screenwriters Evan Daughtery (Snow White and the Huntsmen) and Vanessa Taylor (TV's Alias), brings Roth's world to light. While there are subtle changes being made to the original novel, it's far from distracting to those who took the time to read the book, while still finding itself perfect to those who love the genre.

Make no mistake, Divergent is not The Hunger Games. But, in the end, that's not a bad thing. The problem with many YA novels – and subsequent YA novel adaptations – is that they appear too derivative, which audiences really don't want. This is certainly not the case here. While it may share some minor similarities to The Hunger Games, Divergent is a very different beast. This is more dystopian sci-fi conspiracy than government uprising, which makes for a far more compelling story than trying to be a cheap knock-off, and leads to more taut thrills for the audience.

However, the film is not without its flaws. Woodley, while more than adequate as leading lady Tris, seems to rely too heavily on performances from James and Courtney instead of standing on her own, especially since the character is supposed to be strong and far more confident than she appears here. While this could be seen as a deficiency by some, though, it's far from a deal-breaker. Divergent is still not only a worthy adaptation to the Roth's book, but a thrilling actioner for anyone who loves good sci-fi, and is more than worth the price of admission – especially if its an IMAX admission.

FINAL VERDICT: Whether you read the book or not, Divergent is far more than a YA adaption. Visually stunning and brutally thrilling, Divergent stands above other derivative films as of late, and manages to hold its own in the sci-fi genre as the next big franchise of films. While calling it a classic may be a bit hyperbolic, it's certainly a must-see for any sci-fi or action fan.