Writers: Evan Daugherty, Vanessa Taylor
Cast: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet, Ashley Judd, Tony Goldwyn, Jai Courtney, Zoe Kravitz, Miles Teller, Ben Lloyd-Hughes
Running time: 139mins
The lowdown: For those in need of a Hunger Games style hit; this adaptation of Veronica Roth’s bestseller will hit the sweet spot. In a post-apocalyptic war Chicago, people are divided into five rigid ‘factions’, based on their personalities. Anyone who doesn’t fit into a faction – like Beatrice “Tris” Prior (Shailene Woodley) – is classed as ‘divergent’ and thus a potential danger to the state. While attempting to hide her true nature, Tris exposes the sinister side of her seemingly perfect society. Kate Winslet and rising Brit heartthrob Theo James give sterling support in a futuristic adventure that meets at the convergence of Twilight and The Hunger Games.
The full verdict: Those bemoaning Divergent’s pick n’ mix plotting – Potter, Twilight, Hunger Games, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Inception, Full Metal Jacket, Logan’s Run (remember that?) and even Invasion of the Body Snatchers all get sizable nods – should remember J.K. Rowling and Suzanne Collins also liberally borrowed from earlier sources on their way to superstar author status.
And in its sledgehammer metaphoring and scrappy eager-to-please charm, it is easy to warm to this latest fantasy teen adaptation.
The Descendants star Woodley’s Tris is carefully positioned to encompass every young middle class adult dilemma. For her choice at which faction to join – Erudite (societal engineers), Abnegation (governors), Amity (workers), Candor (legal), Dauntless (military) – read college applications.
Choosing Dauntless, Tris is basically studying what she wants rather than what her parents (Ashley Judd and Tony Goldwyn) wish for her. She then has the trials of meeting new people, fitting in, confronting bullies and battling peer pressure (what is being divergent if not an outcast from the in-crowd?). There are even tests that can flunk you out and teen suicide also gets a look-in.
And the film’s increasingly oppressive society (secretly being managed by no-fun Erudite) is essentially the impending world of adult responsibility literally churning out mindless drones.
Limitless director Burger plays all this admirably straight to please social media shrieking fans, bringing a requisite sense of scale to his visuals and set-pieces, assisted by fresh-from-Gravity Production Designer Andy Nicholson.
Burger also shoots Inception-alike subconscious training exercises with enough visual flair and bombast to at least echo Christopher Nolan and mounts the real world conflicts with bruising excitement and, by the beat-the-massacre climax, a nice sense of peril.
But, teen fair such as this, with obligatory two-plus hour running time and achingly hip soundtrack, succeed or fail with their leads.
Happily, Woodley proves no moping Kristen Stewart clone. Charismatic and just about believable in the action department, she leaps on the chance to carry a movie.
James pulls off the near impossible feat of being a prettier James Franco without you wanting to punch his chops in the thankless role of Four, gruff antagonist turned dreamboat boyfriend.
Winslet (heavily pregnant while filming) has fun as officiously evil, blandly named Jeanine, while the yoof cast of Zoe Kravitz and Ben Lloyd-Hughes as Tris’ BFFs, Jai Courtney as a psychotic drill instructor, and Miles Teller as a sniveling Malefoy and Ben Lloyd-Hughes all breathe life into bulk standard supporting characters.
Ignoring the preposterous story and plotting (although amusingly, the near-fascist society has a fittingly great train service, always there for a quick getaway), the main issue is the excessive length. Despite Burger’s efforts to keep the film on the forward momentum, Divergent runs out of puff on numerous occasions.
Guys, Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark run two hours apiece. Bear that in mind for the sequel, the already greenlit Insurgent.