Dr. Donna Copeland’s
SHAILENE WOODLEY THEO JAMES KATE WINSLET ASHLEY JUDD JAI COURTNEY ZOE KRAVITZ
MILES TELLER MAGGIE Q MEKHI PHIFER RAY STEVENSON TONY GOLDWYN ANSEL ELGORT
It’s simply impossible to watch Divergent and not compare it to The Hunger Games. Veronica Roth wrote Divergent three years after Suzanne Collins published The Hunger Games, and with Summit Entertainment desperate to fill the void left by The Twilight Saga, the similarities are not merely coincidence. The good news is that we get another female action hero in Shailene Woodley (The Descendants, The Spectacular Now), but the bad news is she is no Jennifer Lawrence. The futuristic world laid out in Divergent isn’t as encompassing as what we saw in Hunger Games; the entire first film spends all of its time setting the stage, and the anticlimactic conclusion feels more like an episode or a television pilot than a stand-alone film.
Future world Chicago is surrounded by electric walls to protect the citizens from whatever lies beyond. People are separated into class groups called Factions. Tests administered by the government at the “choosing age” help each person understand which faction they should choose, but the final choice is up to the individual. One faction is the brave (military), honest, peacekeepers, who are selfless and intelligent. When Tris (Woodley) goes in for her test, something happens that sets in motion a fate no one could predict. With her results inconclusive, she must strategically choose the faction that will help keep this new secret that would get her killed if made public.
The comparisons with Hunger Games begins with the factions and separation of humans by class to the fearless leading female. Tris has sudden character growth that feels unfounded based on what we see on screen. She comes from the “selfless” faction and very rapidly turns into what her faction calls “first jumper”, the person in the initiators that wants to go first. Woodley does bring a humanity and humble nature to the role that mirrors Katniss Everdine, but I think that was done intentionally. Divergent is quite exciting, and the two and a half hour thriller moves quickly, but the audience is asked to retain a lot of knowledge about this new world.
It is based on a series for young adults, so themes like young love, bullying, and separation from parents are all defining moments for the first part of the trilogy. Oscar winner Kate Winslet as the antagonist was an interesting choice, especially since she was pregnant during the film and is all too obviously only filmed from the waist up in close shots and walks around with a briefcase covering her stomach for the rest of her limited role. The film’s high points are when Tris is tested with bravery and endurance, which is what these types of films survive on. However, if you are familiar with The Hunger Games series, some of the obvious and less exciting elements here will make this feel more like a second rate copy.
Final Thought – Entertaining and adrenaline filled, but never proves to be as creative or emotional as Hunger Games.
By: Dustin Chase
In Chicago, after unspecified wars, the populace is divided into five factions: Erudite (intelligent), Dauntless (fighters, defenders), Abnegation (selfless, food growers, governors), Candor (truth tellers), and Amity (the peaceful). At a certain age, young people are given a test to see what type they are, although they are told they are free to choose any one they want. The hooker is, that if they don’t succeed in that group, they may not go back to their family’s group; they are considered factionless, which is not a good thing. Another problem comes up when a person isn’t a perfect fit with any group, they are Divergent, and cast out.
The heroine of this story, Beatrice or Tris (Shailene Woodley), comes from an Abnegation home, but tests as a Divergent, which she is advised to hide, and simply choose a faction on her own. She chooses Dauntless, and for an unexplained reason, her twin brother Caleb (Ansel Ergort) chooses Erudite. The Dauntless initiates go into a very stiff training program—actually, rather sadistic—to weed out those who don’t really belong. At first, it looks like Tris will be one of those—she is slender without much muscle—but her grit and willingness to take risks and do extra training makes you think she might make it. She does receive some tips from one of the trainers named Four (Theo James), who also provides moral support.
As in all organizations, political intrigue to assume power raises its ugly head, and the chief of the Erudite faction, played by Kate Winslet, is ready to stage a coup and oust the Abnegation faction. They have conceived of a sinister plan that involves scandal mongering against the governors as well as finding a way to get the Dauntless to fight for them. Of course, this puts Tris in the middle, and she and Four—who have formed a partnership—have to figure a way out.
Woodley plays the part of the kick-ass heroine extremely well, and she and James have the chemistry and fine acting talent to pull off leadership and a convincing partnership. It’s kind of fun to see Woodley and her previous costar in The Spectacular Now, Miles Teller, play completely different roles, and to see her get the last laugh. I think Kate Winslet, always a fine actress, is miscast—not icy enough and too gentle in her demeanor. Her character should make the viewer’s skin crawl.
This film has been compared unfavorably with The Hunger Games, which I think is a bit unfair. Divergent is just as entertaining—though perhaps not quite as lavish—makes some political statements, and has a much more active and assertive heroine. (Katniss was much more powerful in the first book, and more docile and dependent in the second; although, granted, it has been suggested she was suffering from PTSD). I prefer the storyline in Divergent over the Hunger Games’ feature of having children killing children. That a society would be divided into functions like Divergent is more appealing to me, and including a political element of one group willing to go to war to gain power is reflective of our real world. Divergent also has an underlying theme of adolescents developing an identity and the need to separate from their parents. Likewise appealing is the message that humans do not fit neatly into proscribed groups, and that discriminating against those who belong to more than one is senseless.
A treat to see Shailene Woodley, Theo James, and Miles Teller in fine action roles.