There are two current hot topics in Hollywood; superheroes and young adult adaptations. Divergent fits perfectly into the latter continuing the form of Twilight and The Hunger Games. Based on Veronica Roth’s novel Divergent, on paper, could be misunderstood as a carbon copy of Hunger Games; set in a broken future, where people are divided into factions and focusing on a young girl who just might have the power to change everything, hell it even stars a member of the Kravitz clan. So can Divergent live up to Jennifer Lawrence’s hijinks or does it fall more squarely into the damp squid that was The Host?
In this dystopian future the people are split into five factions; Abnegation – the selfless, Amity – the peaceful, Candor – the honest, Dauntless – the brave and Erudite – the intelligent. When people reach the age of 16 they take a test which indicates which group they are best suited to before they must make their final allegiance. But behind closed doors the factions are secretly all vying for power. So when Tris (Shailene Woodley) finds out she is Divergent, meaning she possesses qualities from all factions, she is seen as a threat to this already strained existence. Joining Dauntless young Tris strikes up an unlikely bond with Four (Theo James) who suspects Tris of having greater abilities than she seems willing to show. All the while powerful Jeanine (Kate Winslet) watches on in the shadows.
Divergent’s biggest issue is it feels like a melting pot of other franchises of a similar ilk. The different factions feel like Harry Potter’s houses, the dystopian setting looks like Hunger Games and the brooding, token romance is all a little too Twilight which is less “will they, won’t they?” and more “hurry up and get on with it”. What’s more the bulk of the film takes place in the Dauntless training camp which feels very reminiscent of Starship Troopers similarly themed boot camp and even sees a scene involving deadly throwing knives and tactical game of ‘capture the flag’. In short there really isn’t anything on display plot of ideas wise that you haven’t seen before.
That said director Neil Burger creates a distinct aesthetic that is far removed from most dystopian worlds on film. Here the sun shines, yes the buildings crumble but there is a distinct feeling of a brighter rather than oppressive existence. In fact it is the world Burger has created, bringing to life Roth’s novel, that intrigues the most. The city, surrounded by a fence to keep out those who are not civilized, has huge potential to expand into a fascinating world in the planned THREE sequels. If you are not familiar with the source novels it’s the secrets that the film only hints at within this world that may well have you coming back for more.
But where Divergent is an engaging watch is in finally seeing Shailene Woodley fulfill the potential she displayed in The Descendants. Having had numerous stop-start moments in her career since starring opposite George Clooney it was easy to wonder if Miss Woodley was all hype and no punch but Divergent proves that she is a force to be reckoned with. At first her Tris is quiet, reserved and easily intimidated but she soon blossoms into something more gritty and determined, drawing parallels with Woodley’s career is perhaps a little too easy. One thing is for certain, not only can Woodley carry a film as the lead she’s a powerful screen presence and one that is fully understandable why the producers of Divergent felt she was capable of carrying a franchise.
For the most part Divergent is a little too generic but it has a highlight in its lead actress and the potential to build upon a solid if predictable foundation for the franchise.