Shailene Woodley is woman of the hour about now. She stars in Divergent one of the most anticipated youth market film franchises since The Hunger Games which is resembles and she’s in all three films of the trilogy. Woodley is the charismatic lead in this book based tween sci-fi extravaganza, so she’s sitting in cream.
She made the cover of The Hollywood Reporter and other major publications and has charmed media, voters and fans in The Descendants, The Spectacular Now, and several TV roles. Some say she’s the new Jennifer Lawrence, star of The Hunger Games. Certainly the Divergent films are suitable vehicles for a mass market career launch.
What is strange is that the film is so similar to Games and one wonders if the irony was not lost, then why release it so soon afterwards, or at all? It looks less fabulous than The Hunger Games with all its color and shapes and angles, because Divergent’s dystopian future is bleak, baby, black and grey and flat. It’s less interesting to look at but in other major ways it is bio identical.
The future is set in some god awful dingy crumbling Brutalist world, Chicago of 2164. Society’s divided into factions each representing a human virtue, Abnegation, Erudite, Dauntless, Amity, and Candor. Young people are expected to choose one to join, and stick with it for life. If it’s different from family and friends’, that’s it, they don’t see them again. Getting into the preferred faction means a tough, invasive, repressive and violent initiation and training.
Triss (Woodley) comes from a family in Abnegation but she picks Dauntless for her future, the black clad police /terrorists who have free reign in the streets. But early in the process of initiation, Triss is told sotto voce by her medical examiner that she is not any one of the factions. She is in fact, a Divergent. She doesn’t belong and has powers and the state would kill her if discovered. Triss’ life from that point is lived in fear, so she strengthens herself physically and mentally and becomes a ruthless warrior.
English actor Theo James plays Four, an initiator who is tough and unforgiving at first but develops a relationship of solace with Triss. There is so little joy in their lives and so much fear and agita that they can provide comfort to one another is lifesaving at least. When push comes to shove they become partners in survival.
Divergent has a complicated mythos which is explained in good dramatic terms, and less explication than I feared, and it’s interesting. Loyalties, skills, relationship and certain values are important, in context of the story we’re watching in in terms of our unknown future. The crumbling city infrastructure resembles Detroit’s empty, ruined streets as they are today. It sent a chill through this reviewer just as the darkened Detroit did in Only Lovers Left Alive.
The film is exciting and energetic, but long inconsistent stretches of inaction arise and feel beyond slow. I haven’t read the books, and while the concepts are neat, the film feels flat. Hopefully thee next two chapters, Insurgent and Allegiant will provide more oomph.
35mm fantasy sci fi
Written by Evan Daugherty, Vanessa Taylor based on the novel by Veronica Roth
Directed by Neil Burger
Opens: March 21
Runtime: 139 minutes