Teenage fiction that is very obviously hoping to ape the success of ‘The Hunger Games’ (12), which is no bad thing, and it largely does a good job with only the cheesier elements of the writing letting it down. The film is based on Veronica Roth’s debut novel of the same name, part one of a trilogy, whilst Neil Burger (‘The Illusionist’ 06, ‘Limitless’ 11) directs. The immediate difference between this and The Hunger Games is that whilst both have a preposterous central storyline the other franchise makes it work on film in a very believable way, whereas here it takes a while to settle and doesn’t work to the same degree.
The world of Divergent is a dystopian future where mankind has struggled to survive after global war ruined everything. We are specifically taken to Chicago which is surrounded by enormous defences (beyond which no one is quite sure what exists anymore) and where the people are divided into factions when they are young, denominations they will belong to for the rest of their lives. These factions are : Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), Erudite (the intelligent), Abnegation (the selfless), and Candor (the honest), with each supposed to represent your nature and where you’ll be happy and productive and essentially ‘belong’. If you exhibit personality that fits in to more than one then you are a freak, divergent, and are to be killed instantly before you mess everything up. Getting this notion across to the audience in a way that doesn’t sound ludicrous is the first major challenge of the film and it remains one of its biggest pitfalls.
It does, however, immediately remind The Red Dragon of playing countless role playing games and trying to get ranks in as many different classes or disciplines as possible, one just never seemed enough. Guess I’m divergent, or schizophrenic, or GREEDY mwahaha! Our protagonist ‘Tris’ (Shailene Woodley) finds herself in a similar spot when her time to choose her faction arrives. Inevitably, her split personality disorder and strength of character will see her life put in danger, but also allow her to resist and fight against the sinister plot at work within faction management and inevitably attract the amorous attention of the male lead ‘Four’, Theo James. Kate Winslet appears as one of the faction chiefs but even though she was used heavily in the marketing it’s little more than a cameo role for her.
The style has been chosen to make it look as realistic as possible, and they’ve made it quite a lengthy piece, again much like The Hunger Games, and this all works in its favour, but it’s really the strength and charisma of the two leads that sell it overall. Decent, and good enough to merit a sequel.