The latest young adult book franchise made into a movie is called Divergent, based on the trilogy by Veronica Roth. It take place in future Chicago, a city ran by five different factions, all reflective of certain personality types. Shailene Woodley plays Tris, a girl on the verge of having to choose which faction to spend the rest of her life with. There’s one problem though: a personality test came back inconclusive, which means she’s a Divergent, a person who can’t be put in a box. In the world of Divergent these people are being hunted down, because they’re unpredictable and considered dangerous. In an effort to hide what she really is, Tris decides to become a Dauntless, a member of the warrior faction. Typical YA material ensues.
If you’ve seen the Harry Potter films or the first two The Hunger Games installments, you know what to expect from Divergent: a battle for freedom, survival and what’s right, against all odds. That’s not necessarily a bad thing if you enjoy that kind of stuff, since the movie pulls it off rather well. Mostly thanks to its performers mind you, because the story itself has more holes than Katniss Everdeen’s training dummy. Best not to think about that too much and just go with it. Woodley, an actress who’s proven herself already in films like The Descendants, is very versatile, much like her character: vulnerable one moment, strong the next, but always a joy to watch. Without her Divergent would’ve been a far lesser movie, lacking the strong center she provides it with. Supporting players Theo James and Jai Courtney do nice work too as Tris’ trainers, even though they’re rather flat characters. Unfortunately the talents of the phenomenal Kate Winslet are downright wasted: she plays a one-note villain lacking any personality.
Other than that the movie is average, but it doesn’t ever go the extra mile. The action is serviceable, but never thrilling. The drama is okay, but never really all that moving. Its looks are uninspired, a hodgepodge of other sci-fi films involving totalitarian regimes, like Equilibrium or indeed the The Hunger Games franchise. The latter however has a much broader palette thanks to its span, where Divergent is set in one dreary location. After a while the shades of gray one can use run out and Divergent‘s esthetic (or lack thereof) really begins to bore. Its biggest problem is its lack of urgency and pacing though: whenever it’s time for exposition or an emotional scene the movie slows to a crawl, no matter the circumstances. You know those cringeworthy emotional scenes in the middle of shoot-outs, when suddenly all the gunfire conveniently stops until the actors have said their lines and the not so subtle score has underlined the gravity of the situation? There are a lot of those moments here.
Divergent delivers dumb fun and is very watchable thanks to the performances. Its story and direction leave a lot to be desired though. 5/10