Divergent is yet another film based on a popular young adult book series that takes place in a near-future, dystopian world. Based on a New York Times bestselling series by Veronica Roth, Divergent is set in futuristic Chicago, the only city to have survived a near world-destroying war. The society here is divided into five groups, the smart (Erudite), the selfless (Abnegation), the happy (Amity), the fearless (Dauntless), and the honest (Candor).
At the beginning of the film, 16-year-old Beatrice Pryor (Shailene Woodley)-along with the rest of her age group-must make the most important choice of her life: she has to pick which group, or faction, she wishes to be in for the rest of her life. Before deciding, Beatrice takes an aptitude test, which determines she is “Divergent,” a threat to the social order. Vowing never to tell anyone of her results for fear of being killed, Beatrice ultimately chooses to join Dauntless, which also means leaving her family for good.
When she arrives at the Dauntless headquarters, Beatrice shortens her name to just Tris and begins training. Here, she meets her instructor, Four, played by Theo James, and they develop a romance through moody side glances and tension-filled practice sessions. From here, the film’s plot points continue to grow and get more complicated as Tris’ role in society as a Divergent plays out. Throughout training, Tris and the other Dauntless initiates constantly face the threat of being dropped from Dauntless, becoming “faction-less” and hence shunned by society. They are put to the test both mentally and physically, with their initiation unnecessarily swallowing up a whole lot of screen time.
The most redeeming 20 minutes of the film come later, with Kate Winslet’s performance as the villainous face of the Erudite group-the Erudite threaten to destroy the entire population of Abnegation, including Tris’ family. Screenwriters Evan Daughtery and Vanessa Taylor attempt to explain every facet of Roth’s novel in preparation for the sequels to come, and by this part of the film, there are so many subplots present that it is nice to be able to sit back and watch Winslet do her thing.
At this point, the action has heated up, and Tris finds herself in a complicated mess of subplots and trite details as she tries to avoid being discovered as a Divergent. Woodley’s sensitive performance makes Tris a protagonist who is easy to root for, but she is constantly bogged down by the film’s mismanaged direction and awkward choreography. Director Neil Burger, who lists credits such as The Illusionist and Limitless, seems in over his head on this one, as there are so many diverging storylines that the film never quite finds its footing. Most notably affected are the relationships between characters, which never quite develop fully, as too much attention is devoted to the film’s action sequences and lengthy explanations of the mechanics behind this complicated dystopia. Therefore, when Tris leaves her family to go to a different faction, knowing she will never see them again, the moment feels highly anticlimactic.
Despite its two-and-a-half hour run time, Divergent never quite satisfies. Ultimately, itfeels like a poor man’s Hunger Games, and surely will capitalize off this at the box office. The symbolic fight for individualism over conformism shines through, but while The Hunger Games focuses more on the strength of its main character, this film dabbles in its trifling moments for too much-especially the moody romance between Four and Tris. Its goal to provide a sound base for the next two films to come eventually sacrifices any chances it has at being a dynamic, standalone film. The growing idea that female-driven films have the potential to attract audiences not only in small films but also in action-packed blockbusters like this one is something to cheer for, nonetheless.