Divergent Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet. Directed by Neil Burger. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday.
In a post-apocalyptic world, young people are put through a harsh gauntlet in order to satisfy the rigid designs of an authoritarian society, but one teenage girl dares to defy the system and fight to overthrow the corrupt government. Is it The Hunger Games? No, it’s Divergent, the latest adaptation of a young-adult sci-fi/fantasy book series from the studio behind both the Hunger Games and Twilight series. With its dystopian setting, strong teenage heroine and central romance, Divergent is clearly positioned for the same kind of success as those previous series, but the bland execution may end up placing it along DOA would-be YA franchises like The Mortal Instruments and Beautiful Creatures.
Divergent isn’t as disastrous as those two, but it’s also not compelling enough to create the kind of fevered anticipation for the next installment that drives these movies. Shailene Woodley (The Descendants, The Spectacular Now) has some strong moments as heroine Tris, but she struggles to find the emotional core within the movie’s somewhat silly sci-fi setting. Tris’ society is divided into five “factions,” each representing a different personality trait. An aptitude test at age 16 is supposed to determine each person’s faction, but Tris’ test brands her as “divergent,” not fitting into any faction, and a potential danger to society. She chooses to join the warrior-like Dauntless faction, where her trainer and inevitable love interest is the hunky, brooding Four (pretty-boy cipher Theo James).
Director Neil Burger (Limitless) and screenwriters Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor streamline the repetitive training sequences that take up at least half of Veronica Roth’s mediocre source novel, but they still aren’t able to make the faction-based world convincing enough. Tris’ friends and fellow Dauntless trainees barely get any characterization, making their emotionally pivotal roles in the story especially empty. Instead, the filmmakers offer up an expanded role for Kate Winslet as the bureaucratic villain, and while she revels in being evil, her presence never really connects with Tris’ story. That’s the problem with the movie as a whole, which throws together a lot of familiar sci-fi and coming-of-age elements, but can’t make any of them connect.