Mark Reviews Movies



1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Neil Burger

Cast: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Jai Courtney, Zoë Kravitz, Miles Teller, Kate Winslet, Maggie Q, Ashley Judd, Tony Goldwin, Ray Stevenson

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense violence and action, thematic elements and some sensuality)

Running Time: 2:19

Release Date: 3/21/14

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Review by Mark Dujsik | March 20, 2014

The villains of Divergent are members of a caste who have decided it's in society's best interest to restructure the power of the caste system in order to better preserve it, while the movie's heroes are members of a different group that believes it's best to maintain the present order of things as a means to better preserve the system. Either way, the system wins. Someone didn't think this one out to the logical end.

The movie, another based on another first book in yet another series of books aimed at a young audience, is very clear about its five-tier arrangement of a futuristic society where the only apparent survivors of a massive war reside in and just outside a Chicago that appears to have missed out on most of the conflict. It knows how the people are divided, and for the most part, the "factions" here make sense.

There are farmers. There are the benevolent. There are smart people and jocks, and at this point, the whole thing starts to sound more like a high school cafeteria than a functioning civilization. The smart ones do unspecified smart things, and the jocks are the warriors, who defend the city from vague and seemingly non-existent threats. Finally, there are the people who are always honest, who get short shrift in terms of what their use as an integral part of society actually is.

Here's the thing: It works. That's the really insidious part of the world created by author Veronica Roth, although—at least from this adaptation of the first entry in her series—it feels as if it's unintentional. As portrayed here, the caste system works, and it's good.

"Amity" makes sure everyone has food, and "Dauntless" (As well as it runs, this society certainly has some consistency problems when it comes to which part of speech to use to name its factions) keeps the peace. There may be the "faction-less"—those who failed to become official members of one of the factions—roaming the streets, but the philanthropic arm of the system—called "Abnegation"—makes sure they have their basic survival needs met. No one questions the system, except for a debate about which group should be the governing one, and if the central conflict that eventually shows up really late is any indication, the movie isn't too critical of it, either. Its admiration of a fascist warrior class over one that concentrates on the intellect, though, is unmistakable.

Questionable politics aside, the movie's blind acceptance of this world and its continuation means that the story itself is essentially a non-starter. It focuses on Beatrice (Shailene Woodley), who was born into Abnegation but must take a test that determines to which caste each is best suited. Her test classifies her as unclassifiable—a "divergent," whose personality means she could fit into multiple classes. Her nature is protected by Tori (Maggie Q), who tells Beatrice not to tell anyone. On the day she and every other 16-year-old must choose the faction to which they will belong for the rest of their lives, Beatrice selects Dauntless.

Thus begins what amounts to an extended training montage, in which the newly self-dubbed Tris goes through various exercises and tests to become an official member Dauntless. She learns to shoot, fight, throw knives, climb structures, roll when running is a perfectly acceptable alternative, face her fears while under the influence of a hallucinogen, and not question authority. Along the way, she occasionally interacts with rather anonymous friends and acquaintances, but mostly, she strikes up a force-fed love affair with Four (Theo James), the head trainer, and gets into a battle of wills with Eric (Jai Courtney), a member of the faction's leadership.

It's all very heavy on exposition, and the screenplay by Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor feels more like the first act to a bigger-picture tale that doesn't even start to reveal itself by the time the movie ends. Instead, the movie is stuck in its microcosmic universe of war games and cheesy romance. The only hint of something bigger arrives when Jeanine (Kate Winslet), the leader of Erudite (We need to talk about this willy-nilly mixing of nouns and adjectives)—the intelligentsia of this world—who talks about eliminating human nature from society, but then the movie is right back to showing the "hero" faction removing humanity from its members.

There's a half-hearted, incredibly inept revolution (Considering who's orchestrating it, one would think the plan would be at least smart enough not to have a failsafe at the exact moment before its success) to interrupt the unending setup, but it feels inorganic—a tacked-on way to have a climax. Divergent is politically sloppy and generally dim, yes, but worse, it's dramatically static.

Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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