If, in real life, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, in the worlds of book writing and movie-making, it’s the way a big chunk of business is run. In those worlds, the phrase is, “If it’s a success, copy it.”
The 2011 book “Divergent” and the new movie adaptation of it, are low-rent, watered-down versions of the hit book and film series “The Hunger Games.” You know, post-apocalypse, teen angst, innocent-young-girl-turns-into-political-w
In this newer version of the story, it’s 100 years after “the war,” and society has been broken down into five factions – five very different tribes, if you will – membership in which everyone must choose when they reach the age of 16. Faction names include: Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless and Erudite. No matter which one your family comes from, when you hit that special age, you can choose to stay with them or go off into a different one, where you will stay for the rest of your life, unless you become “factionless.”
You don’t want to be factionless. Those who are, at least in the movie, are seen roaming and gathering in the streets, the equivalent of hobos warming their hands over a fire. So you choose the one that your heart and mind tells you is right, then make sure you act accordingly so you won’t get thrown out and become factionless.
I’m not sure exactly how far into the future this takes place, but I’m going to guess that the education system must be in pretty good shape. Because if I had to choose one of those factions, the name of which explains what they’re all about, I wouldn’t know where to start. I know what candor and erudite meant, but who, among the 16-year-olds in the story and the young adult readers this series is aimed at, is going to know what “abnegation” means? Or “amity” or even “divergent?”
Yes, I had to look the words up. Then the story made some sense. Right, the story: Young Tris (Shailene Woodley) turns 16, goes, as she must, for her “faction aptitude test,” finds out she’s suitable for multiple factions (yeah, she’s divergent; now you don’t have to look it up), then chooses to leave her Abnegation family and become Dauntless (sorry, those words you do have to look up).
What we get is an action film with some hints of a budding love interest that takes place in front of a coming-of-age backdrop, with everything already mentioned happening amidst some confusing political intrigue. Adults make only brief appearances (Kate Winslet, Maggie Q and Mekhi Phifer among them), as the story stays mostly with the young characters: Ever-toughening Tris, seemingly emotionless Dauntless trainer Four (Theo James), and bullying Dauntless leader Eric (Jai Courtney).
There are a couple of first-rate visual effects sequences, including a bird attack and an underwater scene. But among the film’s insurmountable problems are the equally bad effects, including poorly rendered CGI people jumping off trains, and snarling dogs with obviously fake teeth. While Theo James is pretty good in a one-dimensional sort of way, Shailene Woodley is far from strong enough as a lead character. She might have less than one dimension on display, and the director should have found a way to keep her from rapidly and distractingly moving her eyes back and forth in close-ups.
In fairness to the writers, it’s a faithful adaptation of the book. Unfortunately the book isn’t very good, and the script may be too faithful. The film comes in at a lengthy 139 minutes (which is about how long it took me to read the book), and it starts to drag till it reaches its big, dumb climax and wide-open ending. But because of the success of book and its sequels, there will be built-in fans of the movie. And they only have to wait a year for the next one. “Insurgent” is set for release on March 20, 2015.
Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.
DIVERGENT Written by Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor; directed by Neil Burger With Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet, Jai Courtney Rated PG-13