When the rights to Veronica Roth’s new novel “Divergent” was purchased, in was in the midst of the young adult phenomenon. “Harry Potter” had just wrapped, “Twilight” was going strong, and the “Hunger Games” was poised for greatness. By the time the film was ready to be released, however, the young adult genre was over-saturated and well past its heyday. Yet “Divergent” may be the film that injects some life into the faltering genre.
The film focuses on Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley), a member of the Abnegation faction within dystopian Chicago. Society has been split into five factions: Abnegation, Amity, Erudite, Dauntless and Candor. The purpose of this was to create a new order after the war that destroyed the rest of the world. At the age of 16, citizens are given an aptitude test to help them identify their best faction fit. Some, like Beatrice, are Divergent, and fit into more than one, potentially disrupting the system.
Having taken a new name, Tris joins Dauntless, the faction of bravery, or recklessness, depending on how you look at it. Within this new faction, she meets Four (Theo James), who trains her and the fellow Dauntless initiates like Peter (Miles Teller) and Christina (Zoe Kravitz). Finally, the hunt for those classified as Divergent comes to a head when fierce and frigid Erudite leader Jeanine Mathews (Kate Winslet) makes a power grab of brutal proportions.
“Divergent” is compared on many levels to “The Hunger Games.” Both with a strong female protagonist within a divided dystopian society, they have to fight to protect themselves and those closest to them against impossible odds. That’s where the comparisons end.
Tris is by far a more relatable on-screen presence than her predecessors. Woodley portrays her in a way that connects with audiences and gives lets her show the vulnerability and uncertainty of a teenager expected to know who they are so early in life. The film is one about finding yourself, your inner strengths, and Woodley is the perfect guide, without the apparent pre-requisite steely demeanor.
Four, the trainer turned love interest, is one of the more mysterious characters in the film. His standoffish demeanor is tempered as the connection with Tris grows, and James keeps his performance interesting as the situation crumbles around him. The pair has some of the more convincing chemistry than seen in previous young adult films, and it truly pays off for fans of the series.
Speaking of fans of the series, sans one major plot point and some streamlining, “Divergent” actually stays fairly close to the book. Fans can expect to see the zip line, the Ferris wheel and the multiple encounters with the Pit. The aptitude test and fear tests are done remarkable well visually, and offer an intriguing glance inside the characters thoughts.
The film also stars Tony Goldwyn, Ashley Judd and Ray Stevenson. The filmmakers chose well when closing out the movie. If the film did not perform well, “Divergent” can stand on its own with its ending, but a crack, just enough, is left for “Insurgent” to easily continue to story.
The violence is rough, but all things considered is mild compared to the potential of the material. “Divergent” earns an A from me. It is faithful to the source material, the characters are well portrayed with dedication, and save for a few laughable lines and some lengthy combat scenes, is just what studios have been looking for when cashing in on the young adult demographic.
“Divergent” is rated PG-13 for violence and some sensuality.