Divergent is too familiar to Queen of YA ranks
It doesn’t take long while watching Divergent to get the sense that the filmmakers desperately want this young adult book adaptation to be the next Twilight, Harry Potter or Hunger Games instead of aiming higher and simply trying to be the first Divergent.
In yet another dystopia (since teens could apparently care less about sunny, cheery locales) 16-year-old Beatrice (Shailene Woodley) and her brother, Caleb (Ansel Elgort), are preparing for the biggest day of their lives.
They have to decide which of society’s five factions is best suited for them. There’s the selfless Abnegation, intelligence-minded Erudite, peaceful Amity, honest Candor and the brave security force Dauntless. Tris’ parents — leaders in the Abnegation faction — presume she’ll stick with the family faction. Instead she opts to join Dauntless. Unlike many of her peers, Beatrice’s aptitude tests reveal she’d be equally suited for other factions. That special talent classifies her as a Divergent, a potentially dangerous distinction. Divergents pose a threat the mysterious schemes of Erudite Jeanine (an appropriately icy Kate Winslet).
At Dauntless, Tris makes fast friends with Christina and Will. They’re basically filling in for Harry Potter’s Hermoine and Ron. Obnoxious loudmouth Peter (Miles Teller, That Awkward Moment) is her Draco Malfoy. And Tris quickly earns the scorn of aggressive instructor Eric (Jai Courtney, A Good Day to Die Hard) . Good thing the brooding Four (Theo James) likes her. As she continues her journey of self-discovery and pushes her physical and mental limits, Tris learns a shocking truth that could mean the end of civilization’s peaceful existence.
Divergent screenwriters Evan Daughtery (Snow White and The Huntsman) and Vanessa Taylor spend too much time on YA cliches. Needless romantic subplot, war games training and ever present sense of isolation are tossed in. There are some worthy angles to explore. The society class systems and the twist on the teen dilemma of deciding their future is ripe for more screen time. At 139 minutes, it’s not like there’s a shortage of time.
Another problem is the slightly creepy high school teacher/student crush vibe going with Four and Tris. That’s thanks to the six year age gap between James (30) and Woodley (24). While it may work in the book, James clearly looks much older than Woodley. It doesn’t help that Woodley is a younger looking 24-year-old.
Just like he never fully embraced the potential in his last film, Limitless, Director Neil Burger fails to make being Divergent special. The cool training simulations we saw in the trailers are the extent of what makes it different. Once the action heats up, he can’t take it to the next level. That results in a disappointingly underwhelming final act.
At least the cast holds their end of the film up with Woodley, James and Courtney standing out. Woodley strengthens her case as one of Hollywood’s up-and-coming actresses. She provides Divergent with a strong and likeable lead. James could be the film’s breakout star. He seems poised to fill that heartthrob void left since the days of Team Edward and Team Jacob.
Divergent is too much an amalgam of much more engaging and entertaining Young Adult properties. It has some good ideas and intriguing premises, but fails in establishing its own voice. Instead it’s just another derivative outing that’s as long as it is uneventful.
Rating: 4 out of 10
Photo Credit: Jaap Buitendijk/Summit Entertainment, LLC.