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'Divergent' review: A weak start to the series

Theo James and Shailene Woodley promote "Divergent."
Photo by Dave J Hogan/Getty Images

Divergent (movie)


Following in the footsteps of “The Hunger Games,” “Divergent” is the latest futuristic sci-fi, teen book series to be transformed to the big screen. Devoted fans will be upset by some changes to the story, but the movie sticks to the important plot details. With a group of talented stars filling the cast, “Divergent” is a basic stepping stone for the trilogy but has huge potential.

After some kind of war in the near future, Chicago’s people are divided into five factions based on personality in order to maintain order: Dauntless (the daring, brave protectors), Candor (who value honesty), Amity (hippie-like and friendly), Erudite (who value intelligence and knowledge), and Abnegation (the selfless humanitarians). In their 16th year, teens are given a kind of aptitude test to find which quality dominates their personality, and then the teen must choose a faction to join. Turning sixteen in the same year, Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) and her slightly older brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) must decide their fates after being raised in Abnegation. When Beatrice is tested by Tori (Maggie Q), the test doesn’t work on her and declares her Divergent, or fitting more than one faction. Keeping her results a secret, Beatrice chooses to join Dauntless and begins the initiation testing once in the faction, a vigorous physical and mental challenge to face her fears. Now going by “Tris,” she makes friends with other initiates and her instructor Four (Theo James) but still hides the secret of her Divergence as she learns that she’s in danger.

The series, beginning with “Divergent,” is similar in subject and style to that of “The Hunger Games,” and the level of filmmaking is comparable, though Tris lacks the strength and core motivation of Katniss. The script is the film’s flaw, but the source material doesn’t offer that much more character development. In the book, Tris is more mean-spirited and somewhat vindictive; the altered personality of the film makes for a more personable heroine, but the film unsuccessfully relies on the romance to sell the plot rather than a main character with personality. Tris just seems lost, whereas Katniss is always motivated to protect the people she loves.

Stars have flocked to participate in young adult book franchises, such as “Harry Potter” and “The Hunger Games,” and “Divergent” is no exception, though it is filled with more remarkable youth. Tony Goldwyn and Ashley Judd play Tris’ parents, Ray Stevenson is the local leader, Jai Courtney and Mekhi Phifer are Dauntless leaders, and Kate Winslet is the conniving Jeanine, head of Erudite. Winslet’s role gets a little silly in an attempt to give her more screen time, but one can hope her character improves in the next film. As for the teen characters, the actors are topnotch upcoming stars; Shailene Woodley earned her stripes in “The Descendants,” so it is easy to see how she received the lead. Her co-stars in other films, Miles Teller (“The Spectacular Now”) and Ansel Elgort (“The Fault in Our Stars”), clearly work well with her. Keep an eye out for these three fantastic young stars.

The film actually improves on some parts of the book; the simulation images and reactions from Tris are much better in the film, thanks in large part to special effects and the emotional depth of Shailene Woodley. Unfortunately, “Divergent” is mostly just a bland start. With such a talented cast, one would hope that the rest of the series finds some intensity.

Rating for “Divergent:” C+

For more information on this film or to view its trailer, click here.

“Divergent” is still playing throughout Columbus, including at AMC Easton and Marcus Crosswoods. For showtimes, click here.

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