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Overall Rating

Awesome: 6.25%
Worth A Look: 0%
Average: 6.25%
Pretty Bad62.5%
Total Crap: 25%

4 reviews, 8 user ratings

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by Brett Gallman

"A dull convergence of familiar ideas."
2 stars

When you're a teenager, it only feels like the end of the world at times, but Young Adult novels have magnified that apocalyptic angst to literal proportions. If Hollywood intends on opening their own division in this cottage industry, then "Divergent" already feels like an obligatorily assembled product right off of the assembly line, one that's been cobbled out of so many familiar parts that it never finds its own voice.

Which is sort of anathema to the point, isn't it? "Divergent" imagines yet another dystopia in a post-apocalyptic future left ravaged by "The War," where society has reassembled itself into a glorified caste system composed of five factions, each with their specific function in society. One is born into a faction but eventually has the freedom to choose a new one during a ritual that's aided by a futuristic aptitude test. For Tris (Shailene Woodley), the test is no help, as she's an oddity--a Divergent--who doesn't neatly fit into any of the factions, and she's left with a difficult choice: to stay with her home faction, Abnegation (the altruistic group that also governs), or strike off on her own and join another?

Having been in awe of the Dauntless clan since birth, she chooses the latter option and joins up with the military faction, where she essentially finds herself to be the runt of the litter and struggles to earn the respect of the group's leaders, Four (Theo James) and Eric (Jai Courtney). Those who missed last year's adaptation of "Ender's Game" essentially get a mulligan for this portion of the film, as Tris trains before eventually ascending the ranks and securing a place within the group. For audiences, it's one of many bouts with deja vu, particularly when she begins to make friends and then falls for Four (mercifully and wisely, "Divergent" at least has the good sense to forego the well-worn love triangle trope).

It's Hogwarts meets every disaffected teenage romance you've ever seen, but the most important information and source of conflict is only hinted at until the story finally gets the laborious training stuff out of the way: being Divergent doesn't make you some special snowflake in the eyes of society but rather some sort of anomaly that must be cleansed with lethal force. In fact, the Erudite faction, headed by Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet), has made it a policy alongside their insidious plot to overthrow Abnegation.

With such a scattershot approach, "Divergent" can't help but reveal a thematic richness--or at least the potential for it. Everything from class warfare to ideological dissent is hinted at, as homeless, faction-less hordes gather in the streets, shunned by much of society while the other factions debate over the best course of action. Abnegation and Erudite take center stage, with the latter accusing the former of corruption, but it's a conflict that's undeveloped and reduced to black and white battle-lines: Erudite are the scheming bad guys, Abnegation the selfless do-gooders, a setup that uncomfortably smacks of anti-intellectualism and sides with the folks who mean well (though, to be fair, there's an oddly dark subplot involving Abnegation's leader that introduces a shade of grey that will presumably be explored in the sequel).

Without depth or any further exploration of this brave new world, it all falls rather flat. The faction conceit simply feels like a gimmick and a vehicle to deliver a simplistic message that individualism is to be prized over conformity, a theme that's often repeated without subtlety (at one point, Tris's fellow Dauntless soldiers are literally turned into mindless drones). Such lightweight existential dread seems like the sort of stuff that would be appealing to teens and young adults, and indeed "Divergent" briefly excels at capturing the angst associated with growing up. The early-going feels like a thinly-veiled allegory and takedown of shitty education systems, what with its cliques, its high-stakes placement test, and its insistence that these kids find their true calling before adulthood (if they flunk out of their respective factions, they join the homeless masses).

I wish the film explored that more; instead, it succumbs to a stock destiny subplot, as Tris realizes she's among the chosen ones to foil Erudite's plot, at which point a breezy bit of guerrilla warfare is tagged onto a movie that's ostensibly been one long training montage (but "Full Metal Jacket" it ain't). Forgetting the fact that these Divergents seem to simply be rounded people with more than one personality trait (aka most people, I reckon), this device has become nothing more than a shortcut. In "Divergent," it especially contributes to the overwhelming feeling that everything's auto-piloted: Tris's arc, the bad guys' plot, the coda that points to a sequel, all the while pilfering various influences along the way (the film even decided that it needed a member of the Kravitz clan, just like "The Hunger Games"). Like its main character, "Divergent" resists being put into a box and defined by one characteristic, which sounds noble until the approach effectively renders it just like the stuff that influenced it, only it's blander and more forgettable.

If there's anything that rescues it from being completely dismissed, it's the cast, though one can't shake the feeling that much of the ensemble is wasted on a collection of one-note characters. Woodley's a fine anchor because she's a natural talent who is eminently likeable, and, truthfully, I might be more invested in Shailene Woodley than the character she's portraying since the latter (somewhat ironically) doesn't exhibit many dimensions. She does strike up some decent chemistry with James, and this is the liveliest Jai Courtney has been thus far, so the supporting cast is sturdy enough (and bolstered by the likes of Miles Telller, Ashley Judd, Mekhi Pfeifer, Maggie Q, and Ray Stevenson). Casting Winslet as the icy, pragmatic Jeanine is inspired enough but winds up feeling like stunt casting since it never moves beyond the novelty of "Kate Winslet's the bad guy!"

Under Neil Burger's direction, the impressive cast is reduced to a glass menagerie in this dutiful, lifeless adaptation of a source material that already feels compulsory and derivative in the first place. This is film-making on rails with a final product engineered to translate the novel to the screen without much of a fuss, and it leaves one wondering how something called "Divergent" insists on walking such a straight path.

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originally posted: 03/21/14 15:22:03
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User Comments

5/27/16 Coll Ugh, terrible flick 1 stars
9/19/15 Nour It's just an amazing film 5 stars
11/25/14 DeNitra couldnt get into it 2 stars
8/11/14 lee meh 3 stars
7/24/14 Michael Clonaris Watch only if under 90 I.Q.Most American teenagers? 1 stars
4/10/14 Luke Eletsen Didn't think i would love but am now a huge fan 5 stars
3/31/14 KingNeutron Standard plot, but had some twists - didn't go the way I expected. Woodley was pretty good 3 stars
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  21-Mar-2014 (PG-13)
  DVD: 05-Aug-2014


  DVD: 05-Aug-2014

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