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The Hunger Games: Divergent

In the distant future, North America is in ruins. Entire factions have been split into Districts, as they all fall under the evil totalitarian rule of...oh, no, not this again! It was bad enough that I had to play "Name That Sci-Fi Film Reference!" when I reviewed Oblivion last year, but now again with Divergent? You know, it's just one reference; I'm sure the premise will get better as the review goes along.

Ok, so this isn't Panem, There aren't twelve Districts, and Donald Sutherland isn't the totalitarian bastard running the show. But it is the near future, and it appears that anything resembling North America has been wiped out, save for the remains of Chicago, for some reason. In the hell is the Windy City mostly intact? Did whoever fired off the nukes hit every major city in North America and accidentally left off Chi-town? Crap, I'm thinking too much about this, so let's just roll with it. this brave new world, there are factions, but not like the ones resembling the twelve Districts in The Hunger Games; rather there are groups, such as Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin...Fuck, that's from the Harry Potter book and film series! Okay, let's try this one more time: in reality, the groups are based off of one's psychological aptitude tests they take in the future. There's Abnegation (selfless), Amity (peaceful), Candor (honest folk), Dauntless (bravery) and Eritude (intelligence); and each year, during the Sixteenth year of life, young boys and girls are Selected by the Community to do a job that bests suits that person's traits....and that's taken from Lois Lowry's The Giver.

As you can already see, Divergent is borrowing from other better science fiction and fantasy novels without much of a flare of it's own, a problem which becomes the least of its worries. I should mention that I haven't read the original source material by Veronica Roth, but something tells me it's not only a faithful adaptation to the book, but it does little to address the plot holes. Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) is going through the Choosing Ceremony phase in her life. Before she makes a decision on whether to stay in Abnegation with her mother (Ashley Judd) and father (Tony Goldwin), or to venture out and join Dauntless, she takes an aptitude test that would best inform her which faction she would belong to. Her results are deemed inconclusive, because she qualifies for Abnegation, Dauntless and Eritude; making her Divergent, which in this world, threatens the system, but more on that later. She ends up leaving home and joining Dauntless, and quickly is put through the ringer as she deals with a tough instructor, Four (Theo James) who breaks in newbies, intense training sessions, and hiding her true nature from Jeanine (Kate Winslet), the faction leader for Eritude, and the vilainess who's preparing to use Dauntless to stage a coup d'eta to overthrow Abnegation for control of the five factions.........zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.........

*several hours later......*

..........Huh, what happened?....Geez, must have dozed off there. The movie's so boring that its making me fall asleep during the review, which is perhaps the biggest issue facing Divergent: the film simply isn't compelling to watch.

I know Katniss. I like Katniss. You, Tris, are no Katniss.
The premise is recycled bits from better stories and their movie adaptations, from Hunger Games to Harry Potter, and there's not much of an engaging spin on borrowing from their respective plot points. The script, written by Vanessa Taylor and Evan Daughetry, feels so slavish to the source material that it doesn't make up for the film's bigger question it never explains: why are "divergents" dangerous and pose a threat to the system? From what I gather, it's because they can't be controlled and regurgitate the faction BS, but the story barely explains this concept to the audience. The action scenes are mostly kids training to fight and facing their pears as members of Dauntless, but these scenes happen so much that they become dull and repetitive to watch.

And because Taylor and Daughetry play it this close to the original, the acting suffers as a result. Shaileen Woodley is a terrific young actress, but she's not given much to work with, other than being a mild version of Lawrence's Katniss Everdeen. Theo James is basically a hunk of eye candy that I really don't need to to much detail into, except that the chemistry between him and Woodley doesn't hold much of a spark. And the supporting characters - from Ansel Egort (from that other YA movie I won't mention) as Tris' brother, Caleb, Jai Courtney as Eric, a Dauntless trainer, Miles Teller as Peter, a newbie into the Dauntless faction - aren't give enough to do. Kate Winslet is perhaps the best thing about this movie, playing the main antagonist, Jeanine, a cunning, power-hungry dictator waiting in the wings. She's having a ball playing the bad gal, and it's fun to see her in a role like this.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect in all of this is how this movie, which made $288 million worldwide, announces that a mediocre, rather uninteresting kickoff to what Summit Entertainment hopes is a Twilight/Hunger Games-like hit, can become a tentpole franchise without making some sort of signature stamp. The Harry Potter series had a mix of polished young actors and seasoned British talent from the late Richard Harris to the great Gary Oldman and damn-near everyone in between, and production values that topped itself each outing, along with the dark, mature storytelling. The Lord of the Rings had Peter Jackson's singular vision for bringing Middle Earth to life, as he oversaw every aspect of the 8 year shoot of three movies. Kevin Feige brought together beloved superheros from Marvel's vast stable and brought them together in a shared, coexisting universe, forever changing the superhero genre. Divergent just doesn't do enough to stand out from those franchises, but got in by making a lot of money and by being as bland & generic as possible.

** stars out of  ****


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