'Divergent' review: Grim storyline may split audiences

Scene from Divergent. (divergentthemovie.com)

Scene from Divergent. (divergentthemovie.com)

Rating

3 Stars3/5

Bruce Kirkland, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:40 AM ET

Except for some deceptively giddy moments at the beginning, the film version of Divergent is grim. Relentlessly so.

But it is a good young adult movie in the dystopian vein that dominates in this science-fiction sub-genre. Harry Potter and The Hunger Games are reference points. Divergent plods down some of the same well-beaten paths, but with guns and zombie drugs as weapons instead of the owls and magic wands of Harry Potter and the bow-and-arrow set that Katniss Everdeen wields so expertly in The Hunger Games.

In Divergent, there is another empowered female heroine. She is Beatrice ‘Tris’ Prior. And she is played with an interesting blend of gritty determination and natural girlish charm by 22-year-old Shailene Woodley (The Descendants). She is the same age as Jennifer Lawrence was for the first Hunger Games.

Divergent is an introduction to a series based on novelist Veronica Roth’s trilogy of Divergent, Insurgent and Allegiant. With Woodley on board, and the dynamic Theo James in the co-starring role as the mysterious character Four, the series has some promise.

Not that Divergent is as thrilling as the first Hunger Games instalment, or its sequel. Even with a strong lead cast — Woodley and James are surrounded by Ashley Judd, Miles Teller, Ray Stevenson, Jai Courtney, Zoe Kravitz and Kate Winslet as a psycho-villain — the pace, the mood and the tone of the film are too slow, too dark and — yes — just too, too much self-importance to be great. The running time of 139 minutes is excessive for this story.

The problem is that director Neil Burger, working from an adapted screenplay by Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor, layers in excessive narrative, perhaps to please fans of Roth’s novels. It is not all necessary in this case. The story is actually quite simplistic: 100 years after an apocalyptic war, we are introduced to a human settlement in Chicago where all individuals are organized into sharply defined factions. Each faction has characteristics that all must conform to. Each faction has a role in keeping society balanced. The story reflects on tribalism.

This is humanity we are talking about, of course. There will be blood in this futuristic microcosm of the race. One faction, the Erudites led by Winslet, is plodding a coup to overthrow the Abnegation group, the selfless government leaders. Tris’ parents are part of Abnegation. But she surprisingly chooses to join Dauntless when she given a chance, because they are the protectors, the peace-keepers.

Naturally, nothing is as it first seems. Woodley’s Tris finds this out the hard way and the drama of Divergent unfolds. The title of the book and the film refers to the “divergent” human beings who do not fit comfortably inside any faction. They are considered dangerous by Erudites.

The sci-fi world created for the story is a study in visual as well as emotional contrasts, just as in The Hunger Games. Most of the world the Dauntless faction inhabits is dingy, industrial and depressing. It is up to Woodley, James and their co-stars to keep us engaged, including in the emerging and intensely believable romance between the two leads. While I believe they do, some people may have divergent opinions about Divergent.

Twitter: @Bruce_Kirkland

bruce.kirkland@sunmedia.ca

 


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