By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
I never got into many young adult novel turned movie franchises save but one, Harry Potter. I tried to look at The Hunger Games but it just was not appealing. Both that film and Harry Potter set a huge benchmark for future projects to come, namely Percy Jackson, Enders Game, Twilight, Chronicles of Narnia and so on. There’s no need to list them all, but when anyone watches enough of these types of films, the tropes movie viewers can find in these films are easily identifiable and they can be found in many a future product to come, namely Divergent.
This movie adapted from Veronica Roth’s book of the same name is simple enough to recognize. A bit of that Twilight / Hunger Games style of narrative is going to be evident, and to have a female character show how she comes of age is a staple for many a book from this sub-genre of young adult novels that target a female reading demographic. With this tale, factions exist and the community is divided. Because of that, there is no hope for peace. Because of some global war, the survivors have fallen into a feudal society where everyone is organized into castes.
When children become teens, they have to decide where they will belong in this new world order. When there is a mild-mannered lady who thinks she can make a difference, just where she belongs looks like a sorting hat moment reminiscent from the first Harry Potter movie. Although Potter did not want to be made Slytherin, where he went was his decision, and he became a Gryffindor.
Young Tris (Shailene Woodley) cannot decide between being a member of the Erudites, Abnegation, or Dauntless. They represent a certain aptitude that defines an individual’s personality — one can either be astuteness, selfishness or fearlessness. But there are a total of five aspects of what she can represent, and she is only being recognized for three. To decide was difficult for her, and this film is unclear in revealing if her choice was intentional or accidental since she was hesitant throughout this moment in the film.
And her choice will ultimately seal her fate. Director Neil Burger (Limitless) does a great job at playing up the political intrigue that underscores this film. He shows what the power of having unlimited potential can be, and that theme kept me hooked. I could not help but think about how similar this movie was to Limitless, a movie that showed what the human potential can be even if it is drug induced. I have to admit I have not seen all of this director’s films, but in terms of how he approaches crafting the visual elements of a tale, he is an exceptional visual storyteller. When adapting Roth’s book, I was drawn into the overall story arc that eventually reveals itself.
Apparently, one faction is using another to achieve a more sinister agenda. That plot is far more intriguing than the romance that eventually has to develop between Tris and Four (Theo James). Fortunately, this movie is not always about them but instead is about an Orwellian future that needs to be fixed after all the introductions are dispensed with.
Woodley and James share a good chemistry on-screen, and it’s one that grows on the viewer. Readers of the book will know everything that will happen, but since I have not looked at the novels, to see how their relationship develops is actually well done. It is not so forced.
And I was more attracted to the performances by the supporting lead of Zoë Kravitz (X-Men: First Class) and Jai Courtney (A Good Day to Die Hard). After seeing Courtney in this film, I feel that he is going to be the perfect Kyle Reese for Terminator: Genesis, that’s set to release in 2015. Michael Biehn originally played this character, to see Courtney evolve into Biehn (should he base his character on his) is going to be interesting.
Even Kate Winslet proves that she can be a hard block of ice. She’s spicy and will no doubt be back in parts two and three of this trilogy of movies. There is more to this character than meets the eye and I definitely want to see how this villain will meet her downfall.
Overall, Divergent is not going to be a huge difference maker in this long-winded Hollywood fascination with adapting as many novels as they can into film. Since there is a deep political war going on, it will keep most viewers who love deep-seated thrillers to come back for more. As for when the next film will release, that will not be until next year, March 20, 2015. The only problem is that Burger will not be back. His replacement, Robert Schwentke — who directed R.I.P.D. — may not be up to the task when considering his last film just did not have the energy to be all that exciting. A convergence of talented directors and producers is required to take this trilogy to where it needs to be if it’s going to succeed.
3 out of 5 stars.