Despite its title, ‘Divergent’ is a perfect example of Hollywood’s desperate need for conformity: find an idea as similar as possible to the last success and get it in theaters before anyone notices the difference. The central concepts of the Young Adult novel the movie is based on are intriguing. The trouble is that they’re pretty much the same ideas behind ‘The Hunger Games’, with a little ‘Harry Potter’ tossed in for good measure. The only difference is that this time they have less edge, less personality, and more parkour.
The movie’s cast is strong, given that everyone in Hollywood wants to be part of a blockbuster franchise for obvious reasons, but that doesn’t help much when the material is dull and the filmmaking is so flat.
The story takes place in one of those future dystopias where everything is clean but the world is oh-so-wrong. A war almost wiped out civilization, so now the survivors have created a new societal structure in which everyone must conform to one of five groups with cutesy names: Erudite, Candor, Amity, Dauntless and Abnegation. Our plucky heroine Tris (Shailene Woodley) grew up in one of the half-Amish/half-Amnesty-International households of the Abnegation tribe and has now reached an age where she must choose which group to spend her adult years with. There’s testing for that, of course, but everyone gets to choose.
Unfortunately, Tris tests as “divergent,” meaning that she doesn’t qualify for any group and should be killed. However, she lies and ditches her caring folks (Ashley Judd and Tom Goldwyn) to become a member of the parkour-loving warrior tribe Dauntless. From there, she ends up in a new community where she must train and compete for the right to stay, or she’ll end up homeless. It’s hard work, but thankfully she has a hunky love interest instructor (Theo James) and a collection of custom-ordered new friends to train with (Zoe Kravitz, Christian Madsen and Miles Teller).
Tris has to conceal that whole “divergent” thing, of course. There’s also the sticky wicket of the suspiciously stunt-cast Kate Winslet as an Erudite leader who cares a little bit too much about Tris and seems to be up to no good. So yeah, you’ve seen it all before. That’s not necessarily a problem when filmmakers can reinvent old storytelling tropes. Sadly, with ‘Limitless’ and ‘The Illusionist’ director Neil Burger in charge, that’s just not going to happen.
Honestly, this isn’t a horrible movie. The performances are all fairly strong – especially Shailene Woodley, who proved herself in ‘The Descendents’ and doesn’t disappoint here. At least it’s a story aimed at the ‘tween market that tries to say something, even if it can’t quite work out what that something is. The big problem is that the movie and source material never really latch onto a style, tone, message or plot that makes ‘Divergent’ unique. It’s just a collection of scenes you’ve seen done before and better. As a sad metaphor for the whole thing, even all of the costumes and sets look so generic that it’s often difficult to determine where scenes take place or distinguish between side characters who weren’t previously famous.
As if to ensure that viewers who weren’t arlready bored by the content will be dulled to sleep purely by length, the giant lump of mediocre sameness trudges on for at least 40 minutes too long. Even though sequels have already been greenlit, the chances of this series hitting ‘Hunger Games’ heights at the box office feel slim.
Walking out of the movie desperately trying to recall what I’d just watched and why, it suddenly hit me why the dreadful ‘Twilight’ movies were so successful. They may have been dreck, but they were dreck in a manner unique to their own universe. ‘ Divergent’, on the other hand, never gets past Xeroxing influences long enough to find its way. Maybe that will happen in the sequels.