Divergent: Movie Review
Cast: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Ashley Judd, Jai Courtney, Zoe Kravitz, Miles Teller, Maggie Q
Director: Neil Burger
Here comes the latest YA adventure series to be turned into a cinematic experience - and thankfully, it's more Hunger Games than Twilight.
Shailene Woodley's star continues to soar into the stratosphere as she takes on the role of Beatrice "Tris" Prior, a young girl about to come of age in a dystopian Chicago from the future. The world there is divided into five factions following a war; the factions are decided on by predispositions. In among them, Tris has to choose whether to join Amity (peaceful), Erudite (intelligent), Dauntless (warrior), Candor (honest) and Abnegation (selfless) - but a test at 16 years old to help her decide reveals that she's Divergent, meaning she doesn't fit neatly into one category.
However, Divergents are frowned upon by society, as everybody has their place. Urged by the tester (Maggie Q) to keep that to herself, Tris chooses to be in Dauntless and undergoes a tough training regime that could prove fatal.
But that soon pales into insignificance when she discovers a plot within the seemingly perfect world that could signal an end to everything.
Veronica Roth's novel Divergent was phenomenally popular and all the signs point to the fact the Divergent movie will be the same.
And yes, all of the teenage tropes are present and correct; feeling alienated from society, finding your own identity and gulp, discovering love. (Plus one gratuitously shoe-horned shirt off moment from said crush).
But what sets Divergent apart is the central performance from Woodley, as well as the realisation of the world she inhabits. From the minute the film begins, the dystopian world's perfectly set up thanks to some frank exposition. However, it's Woodley's turn which raises this from yet another Young Adult adventure with its moping heroine, seeking out a partner through adversity. Woodley is tough when needed, but fragile when called upon during the somewhat repetitive training sequences that Tris needs to do to be ensconced in Dauntless' world. All the while, she's juggling the usual tropes from the author of non-conformity, finding a place in the world and eeking out your own existence and identity.
While Divergent's likely to draw parallels with a certain Katniss Everdeen due to the very similar elements of story, love interest and tougher worlds, that's no bad thing given that Woodley imbues Tris with the focus, determination and grit needed to get through the slog of some of the earlier scenes.
But it's towards the end that the film fumbles a little, by throwing in an ending that feels too rushed and overly pacy, killing off characters you're supposed to care for but actually don't due to their lack of screen time and sketchily etched out relationships. It all wraps up a little too easily and conveniently which sounds odd given that there are just over 2 hours 19 minutes of action and story to get through.
An obligatory softening of Tris niggles once she discovers a relationship with Four (Theo James) who's initially frosty towards the newbie but becomes more welcoming as time goes on (complete with compulsory shirtless scene to get female hearts a-fluttering) - but at the end of the day, Roth wrote a Young Adult novel and so can't be expected to work outside of the confines of the genre.
Some of the action sequences from the Dauntless team look like extended Parkour, but all in all, Divergent continues the pleasing trend of the post-Twilight wave of YA - it's a confident start to the series but hopefully, now all the initial exposition and setting up is out of the way, the Divergent series can find a stronger voice and become its own beast.