Friday, March 21, 2014

Movie Review: 'Divergent'

 *** out of 5
139 minutes
Rated PG-13 for intense violence and action, thematic elements and some sensuality
Summit Entertainment

Article first published as Movie Review: 'Divergent' on Blogcritics.

It should be clear to everyone that young adult fiction is all the rage in Hollywood these days. It seems like if it flies off the bookshelf, it’s going to be made into a movie. The results have been less than satisfactory to say the least. For every Hunger Games or Beautiful Creatures, there’s five Twilights, The Host, or The Mortal Instruments. Not everything is golden. This isn’t a surprise considering only three have been watchable recently. In the meantime, here comes another potential young adult novel-based trilogy, this time from author Veronica Roth — Divergent falls somewhere in the middle.

DIVERGENTIn the future, a war will have destroyed most of the world (cough, Panem, cough) and Chicago has been divided into five factions: Abnegation, consisting of the selfless; Amity, the peaceful; Candor, the honest; Dauntless, the brave; and Erudite, the intelligent. Every year, all 16-year-olds must take an aptitude test which tells them which faction they belong in, and then they must attend a reaping — err, Choosing Day — to decide between taking their place in a new faction or stay with their family. However, Beatrice Prior’s (Shailene Woodley) aptitude test comes back inconclusive meaning she’s “Divergent,” or cannot be controlled.

As the protagonist, Beatrice must participate this year, along with her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort). Beatrice chooses to be Dauntless, and joins the ranks where a 10-week training period begins. The Dauntless are being trained to fight like warriors to keep the peace amongst the factions. Here, Beatrice chooses to go by the name Tris, and meets Four (Theo James), who helps her along the way, along with her new BFF Christina (Zoë Kravitz). They find out Erudite leader Jeanine (Kate Winslet) has a dastardly plot put in motion and now Tris must come to terms with who she really is and fight a bigger battle than she ever imagined.

DivergentPicIf all of this sounds familiar, it definitely shares a plot-thread or two with Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. Which just makes these young adult novels simply a dime a dozen. Director Neil Burger handles the action scenes better than you’d expect, even if Evan Dougherty and Vanessa Taylor’s screenplay has more than its share of dopey moments. Woodley does the best she can as Tris but seems saddled with having to cry at least every 10 minutes. It’s also awkward to see her being bullied by Miles Teller’s Peter character after having seen them as a couple in last years The Spectacular Now, and Elgort playing her brother here when she’s about to be coupled with him in this summer’s The Fault in Our Stars. Theo James also comes across as a low-rent James Franco, which once pointed out makes every scene he’s in unintentionally hilarious.

As previously mentioned, Divergent definitely falls somewhere in the middle of the pack amongst all these adaptations. It’s never awful, no matter how hard Junkie XL’s score tries to make it, and there are some hilariously bad shots with some awful CGI. One scene involving Tris’ initiation where they send her zip lining through the city ruins would have been a cool scene had it been shot in 3D, and would make one hell of a fun ride at Universal Studios. Did I mention the film is also 139 minutes long? Sure, that kind of length lends itself well to something with a bigger scope, like Catching Fire, but you’ll be checking your watch often throughout Divergent, even if it’s nowhere near as bad as its RottenTomatoes score makes it seem. Being the lesser of evils is a triumph all its own in the wastelands of young adult adaptations and Divergent is a good enough diversion for the tween crowd while the rest of us wait for the first part of the final Hunger Games films to arrive.

Photos courtesy Summit Entertainment

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