“Divergent” is the latest in a string of young adult books to produce a movie franchise. Essentially, the movie can be summed up as “The Hunger Games 2.0.” Unfortunately, I mean that in the same way that the “The Amazing Spider Man” (Andrew Garfield/Emma Stone) is “Spiderman 2.0” (Tobey Maguire/Kirsten Dunst)—it’s too soon, and the audience is inevitably forced to compare the two. And for these two, “The Hunger Games” is head and shoulders above its reboot.
The flick is about Tris (Shailene Woodley), a young girl born into a dystopia where the motto is “faction before blood.” The factions in “Divergent” equate to districts in “The Hunger Games”—it’s how the society is divided. And yes, you guessed it, Tris just does not fit the mold—she’s a “divergent,” she “diverges” from the norm, and if two paths “diverged,” I bet she’d take the one less traveled. Basically, in this world, children are born into factions, and then at age 16 they’re subjected to a test that identifies which faction the children should join based on their personalities. A dangerous rarity is being divergent: not fitting a faction. Beatrice keeps this result a secret and chooses the Dauntless faction: the brave warriors who protect society. Chaos ensues.
The story is not inherently bad, but some pieces simply do not come together on screen in the way an audience needs. Firstly, without reading the books, it is impossible to understand the significance or definition of being divergent. Does it mean intelligence? Physical skill? Two hours into the movie, the audience still does not know. Perhaps confusion is one way to get them back for the second installment. Also, the storytelling feels choppy. Tris needs to go through a “Mulan”-style, “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” montage. She does start that process, but she basically goes from terrible to still pretty terrible to suddenly really great. Those jumps also steal from the audience small moments of triumph that would help them root for her character. Also, someone should have told Shailene Woodley to hit the gym, because she seems as much as of a weakling as when she was on ABC Family.
That leads to the next problem: the cast. “Divergent” stars the aforementioned Woodley, Theo James and Kate Winslet. Woodley, bless her heart, is no action hero. She should stick to her wheelhouse. “The Spectacular Now” and “The Fault in Our Stars” are where she belongs. Theo James is beautiful. No issues there except that he appears a million years older than prepubescent-looking Woodley, but really, that’s as much her doing as his. As for Kate Winslet, this feels very outside her canon of films. She’s an Oscar-winning actress; she does a good job, but why is she here?
“Divergent” is at an immediate disadvantage—it’s not “The Hunger Games.” But on the bright side, it’s way better than “Twilight.” If the “Divergent” team gets a new director and a new writer, like “The Hunger Games” did for its sequel, then “Insurgent,” slated for March 20, 2015, could have a much better chance.