The Hollywood Reporter
Even with star Shailene Woodley delivering the requisite toughness and magnetism, the clunky result is almost unrelentingly grim. Dystopia can be presented in dynamic ways, but this iteration of it is, above all, no picnic for the audience.
The Bottom Line
A rocky start to The Next Big Thing in YA movie franchises
This latest attempt to cash in on the YA craze fails to work as an engaging standalone movie
Even though it stretches to nearly two-and-a-half hours and concludes with an extended gun battle, by the time “Divergent” ends, it still seems to be in the process of clearing its throat.
ScreenDailyDivergent will no doubt be compared endlessly to The Hunger Games, and certainly this film's backers won't mind if they can enjoy some of that franchise's theatrical success. But despite a strong cast and some capable effects work - to say nothing of a rousing final third - this adaptation of the smash Veronica Roth novel suffers from genre deja vu as well as that first-installment problem of having too much setup and not enough payoff.
This Frankenstein of stitched-together YA parts never stands on its own two feet, even with Kate Winslet giving full-on Faye Dunaway
The cornerstone of young adult fiction is its exploration of personal, emotional issues through the filter of ridiculously high stakes, not the least of which because teenagers equate their feelings with the center of the universe. But when film adaptations of that material build real universes to physically embody those issues, the results are decidedly mixed, exemplified by Neil Burger’s realization of “Divergent.”
Using Veronica Roth’s dystopian future as the foundation for a story of self-actualization, Burger succeeds in aping the cool proficiency of its obvious cinematic predecessor, “The Hunger Games,” unfortunately without elevating Roth’s concept to more than an effective if slightly overwrought academic exercise.
For too much of its 143-minute running time, Divergent tells a story mostly independent of its exhaustive world-building. The picture takes pains to explicitly set up the rules of its universe with the notion that said rules will play a large role in the narrative. But much of the core story takes place outside the rules and expectations of its mythology, with much of the details and deviations becoming merely distractions for the relatively generic story. Disconnected from the expectations of its sub-genre and the weight of its advance publicity, Divergent is a sporadically entertaining coming-of-age action film that nonetheless works best as metaphor.
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