Review By: John Delia
Looking to take over where other young adult films have made big splashes, Divergent takes center stage at the box-office this weekend. Taking aim at this very lucrative market the film features actors that are engaging, a story that’s hip enough to garner their interest and a top notch production that envisions the tale very close to the popular novel of the same title. Much like The Hunger Games, that will be concluding this year, the film concerns insurrection, political upheaval and self-determination.
The story opens in the city of Chicago that has survived a war which devastated the rest of the world. Walled in and heavily guarded the city has become a metropolis who’s people are now divided into five factions. Each of the factions has representatives that hold a prominent position on the city council. Every year all sixteen-year-olds must choose in which of the five factions they wish to belong. “Dauntless” are the courageous who guard the city, “Abnegation” members gives to others, “Amity” citizens are peaceful, the “Candor” party preaches honesty, and “Erudite” are the intelligent faction. Their choice is final and they cannot leave their chosen way of life.
Each of the new initiates is tested to give them a sign of which group to join. Both Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) and her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) are among the teens that have to choose. Their mother and father (Tony Goldwyn and Ashley Judd) are Abnegation members and expect their offspring to follow suit. Caleb surprises them by choosing Erudite and Beatrice goes daring and takes on Dauntless. Not the bravest girl or the most callous, Beatrice changes her name to Tris and braces herself heading into the biggest challenge of her life.
Tris’s hidden agenda; however, being divergent with equal parts of all factions, gives her the upper hand during training, or so she thinks. Director Neil Burger (The Illusionist, Limitless) works his young actors to the limit with fierce action scenes that are non-stop. His young stars face off against each other in hand to hand combat, jump from moving trains, zip line 100 stories above the city and leap off tall buildings. While most of the amazing stunts are done by able pros, according to a report from the New York Post dated March 14, 2014, Shailene Woodley did her own fighting in “stage one” of Dauntless against actor Theo James (“Downton Abbey”) as the character Four.
The acting by lead Shailene Woodley in Divergent, much like Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games, bodes nicely with the role of Tris. She’s very malleable in body and direction showing Tris’s transition from weak to warrior. Unwavering in her performance, she symbolizes Tris’s determination to become the best militant in Dauntless. Using her cunning as a divergent Tris worms her way out of even the most death defying situations. In support, Theo James does a very good job of portraying Tris’s only real confidant who falls for her in a big way. Showing both the benevolent and violent sides to his character, James helps pull an extra special performance out of Woodley.
Taking on the protagonist, Kate Winslet plays Jeanine a cold and calculating leader of the Erudites. She’s a very shrewd intellectual with a plan to turn the city into a socialist society with her as the dictator. In order to get control of the city, she has to bring Dauntless on board. With a special drug they administer to the Dauntless members, they can control their actions and use them as their military. Winslet does a very good job of carrying off the role and she even knows how to fight. I have to admire the fact that she was pregnant while filming and still participated in pseudo hand to hand combat to keep in character.
The production equals that of The Hunger Games, using a good measure of CGI, green screen and special effects makeup. In the opening credits we are shown the city of Chicago partially in ruins from the war and the huge wall protecting the populace. As the film moves along we see an amazing zip line scene that spans huge structures, passes ruins of hotels and whizzes through a bombed out building. It’s an amazing ride that tops The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug’s raft escape.
Will Divergent sky rocket at the box office like The Hunger Games? Here are a few observations. The film is Harry Potter for young adults, but that’s not a good thing considering the movie will need ages 17 to 28 to make it a huge hit. Divergent plays out more like The Host and we all know what happened to that follow up to The Twilight Saga. Curiosity will be a big player in the opening weekend, but word of mouth may slow the pace for future weekends. It may have been a better choice to release Divergent during mid summer with students off from school.
Divergent has been rated PG-13 by the MPAA for intense violence and action, thematic elements and some sensuality. While the film does have some gory stabbings that may make youngsters cringe, most all the other violence in the movie is at the same level as many teen video games. The film has been released in 2D and IMAX. As for 3D the production really doesn’t need that effect so you won’t have to be dipping deeply in your pockets to see the film at your local theater. The only downside is the length of the film at 139 minutes, but the story moves along at a fast clip and the adventure should engross the young viewer.
FINAL ANALYSIS: A good young adult film, but may fizzle after a few weeks. (C )
Cast: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Ashley Judd, Jai Courtney, Ray Stevenson, Zoë Kravitz, Miles Teller, Tony Goldwyn, Ansel Elgort, Maggie Q, Mekhi Phifer, Ben Lloyd-Hughes, Christian Madsen, Amy Newbold and Kate Winslet