Divergent Director: Neil Burger – Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Ashley Judd, Jai Courtney, Zoë Kravitz, Miles Teller, Maggie Q and Kate Winslet – Studio: Red Wagon Entertainment and Summit Entertainment – Distributed: Summit Entertainment and Lionsgate
Hollywood studios like to work in cycles and what’s familiar.
When Harry Potter got big, studios picked up fantasy-based properties like “Eragon” to mostly failure. When “Twilight” broke records, studios bought up rights to “Mortal Instruments” and other supernatural teen romance films for mostly failure. Studios constantly look for their next big hit, but the problem is that most are followers, trying to re-capture the success of other works. In 2012, “The Hunger Games” was a massive success that spawned a successful sequel. With success comes imitators.
Set in a dystopian future, the city of Chicago is blocked off from the rest of the world by a giant wall and the city is broken up into five factions. The circumstances for the giant wall are unknown outside the provided context of a giant war that destroyed the world. The five factions are represented by Abnegation (selfless), Amity (peaceful), Candor (truthful), Erudite (intelligent) and Dauntless (brave) with the people living in each sector living according to its assigned virtue.
Beatrice has come of the age where both she and her brother have their aptitude test, the outcome of which will set them on course toward what faction would be best for them. Growing up “Abnegation,” Beatrice is introduced by not wanting to help the poor and living to the selflessness of that her family has lived by. After her test results prove inconclusive, she discovers that she’s a “Divergent,” someone who lives by the rules and thinks outside the box or something like that (it’s never really fully explained why “Divergents” are bad). After joining “Dauntless,” Beatrice — now Tris, because attitude — has to keep her new divergentness a secret, pass her classes and discover the bigger mystery that is coming towards her. Luckily on her journey she has spunky friends and a no-nonsense stern leader who has dark, tragic past — and for no reason whatsoever finds himself drawn to Tris.
This movie so desperately wants to be “The Hunger Games.” Katness and Tris both live in what’s considered the poorest of the factions, both have similar names (Katris), hair and clothing, both have bird motifs, both have a member of the Kravitz family in their cast, both suffer from a richer ruling class that uses government programs to keep lower districts down, and even the book’s logo has its symbol on fire. Plus, moments of the aptitude test are reminiscent of the sorting hat from “Harry Potter.” So much of “Divergent” reads like pieced-together parts of better stories shoved into what feels like “Hunger Games” fan-fiction.
With a running time of 139 minutes, “Divergent” doesn’t do a very good job convening what “Divergents” are, why they’re dangerous, or how Tris becomes a soldier. Growing up in a non-combatant faction, Tris has difficulty transitioning to her new life, losing fight after fight. After talking to her friends about being afraid of being sent home, she somehow tranforms into a badass in the very next scene. We don’t even get a montage of her performing better, she’s just better.
What’s really frustrating about “Divergent” is how much Tris is more Bella Swan then Katniss Everdeen. Tris is a total blank slate with no real personality for people to find incredible fascinating. She moves though the film with the thinnest of character arcs because when you start at zero, even a little bit of emotion is something.
I know that I should judge the film independent of other films, but when the filmmakers try so hard to be like their competition it’s hard to stay objective. Instead of trying something new or doing something different, it suffers from being a derivative of better works.