It's getting more and more difficult for David and I to raise our interest level for adaptations of books meant mostly for teens. Based on the very popular series by Veronica Roth, and starring the talented Ms. Shailene Woodley as the heroine Tris, "Divergent" is first, and foremost, extremely overlong!
The screenplay by Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor is exceedingly tedious until it gets to the main plot of the story. David has outlined the synopsis below, so I won't bother. But, by the time we get to Kate Winslet's part as Jeanine, one of the leaders, I couldn't have cared less. She's a rather odd choice for this part, and she seems to have left her acting ability at home.
Not having read this wildly successful trilogy by Roth, I certainly cannot compare the film to the books, but as far as critiquing the film, none of that is important. Neil Burger's direction is flawed in that the characters and their interrelationships are less than compelling. The bond of Tris and her parents is supremely dubious, until she finds them in peril.
The score by Junkie XL is miserable, swelling whenever a major catastrophe/victory is imminent. The chemistry between Woodley and Theo James who plays Four, Tris' mentor, is tepid at best. And their romance is what I am positive all of the teenaged girls who are waiting with baited breath to see "Divergent" are anticipating.
Fans of the book may find this enthralling. Certainly the teenagers who live and breathe these types of serial experiences will be thrilled. But, adults, who don't have a clue, can take a pass.
Opinion: Wait for DVD
If you're a reader of the fantasy novel "Divergent" by Veronica Roth, then the movie's plot needs no explanation. For everyone else, it is simply this: our future society --- the movie was filmed primarily in Chicago --- is divided into five factions called Erudite (intelligence, scientific knowledge), Abnegation (humanitarian, social consciousness), Candor (openness, honesty), Amity (love, kindness) and Dauntless (courage, fearlessness).
In this world, people are born into one faction or the other. Then, at some point as teenagers, they choose which group they want to be a part of for the rest of their lives. To help them with this choice, they are inoculated with a serum and tested, which usually reveals the faction for which they are best suited. A "divergent" is an individual who is not pigeon-holed into any one faction, but exhibits traits common to two or more.
Since divergents are considered dangers to society, it is necessary to conceal this for one's own safety. Such is the task faced by the film's heroine, Beatrice Prior, a.k.a.Tris, played by Shailene Woodley ("The Descendants"). It's no surprise which faction she chooses --- any other choice would have made for a dull action movie.
The premise is certainly intriguing. The look of the film is often breathtaking, including some impressive shots of the Chicago skyline. Climbing the Navy Pier Ferris wheel was no small task, although Woodley and co-star Theo James were tethered to a safety rope. One of the best scenes has Tris zip lining through skyscrapers as a reward for her fearlessness. There are other ordeals, including those stemming from induced hallucinations, where she must escape from a variety of dangers.
Her mentor and love interest is Four (James, the next teen heartthrob), a Dauntless leader, handsome and heavily tattooed. You can see their relationship developing from the get-go. Unlike "The Hunger Games" films to date, to which "Divergent" will inevitably be compared, there aren't a lot of surprises. And it has some irritating flaws during its overly long two plus hours.
Kate Winslet plays Jeanine, a high-ranking Erudite who wants to preserve the faction system at all costs, and who regards "human nature" as a true detriment to her goals. It is magical how Jeanine always manages to show up at precisely the right time, again and again, as if she had prior knowledge of where Tris or Four would always appear. Woodley lacks the physical prowess and appearance to so easily overpower some of her opponents during Tris' training regimen and subsequent battle scenes. And while the hallucination scenarios were well choreographed, they become redundant.
I was actually hoping Tris would break away from Dauntless and lend her talents and characteristics to other factions, but that was not the intent of this chapter --- maybe next time. And the uninspired ending involving her parents (played by Ashley Judd and Tony Goldwyn) is basically formulaic.
"Divergent" is one of those films that didn't blow me away, but to its credit, I was involved the whole way through, thanks mainly to Woodley's fine acting. Overall, this is surely a movie that will appeal to a younger generation devoted to the genre.
Opinion: Mild See It Now! (if you're a fan of the book)