Conform, OR DIE! It’s like high school all over again!
Sixteen-year-old Beatrice (Shaliene Woodley) is like any other normal teen living in Chicago, except that she isn’t. See, what separates Beatrice from any other American teenager (see what I did there?), is that the world she lives in is a bit different. This is Chicago, after it’s been destroyed by all sorts of war, havoc and absolute mayhem where, to ensure safety among the common-people, society is broken-up into “factions”. The factions are meant to bring people with similar interests together, judged solely by their personalities or what they desire to be. In other words, they serve as a purpose to give most of these people reasons to live on and conform to certain ideals that are put down onto them. Beatrice is, at first, apart of the Abnegation team, where she grows her own food and clothes, and is basically a hippie. However, she has this weird ability where she is able to think for herself and question authority – something that the rest of society doesn’t accept, nor do they ever want polluting their minds. Therefore, rather than causing trouble, Beatrice joins up with the Dauntless team, where everybody goes to the gym, beats the shit out of one another, and parkours from one area, to the next. It’s a big step for Beatrice, however, it’s one that she tries her hardest to succeed at, which is mostly thanks to her non-stop training, as well as the fact that one of her teachers (Theo James) takes a liking to her and, in ways, may be exactly like her: A free-thinker that doesn’t listen to what everybody around them tells them. Aka, a “divergent”.
Dun dun dun!
Sorry that premise took so damn long to write, but I think in order to understand what all of this hullabaloo means, I have to go into some heavy-detail about the setting. Well, actually, I could have probably made it easier on both of us and just said it is something of a “Communist government, mixed with a lot more funky dress-styles”, but I don’t think that would have gotten the point across well enough. Just know that this is an adaptation of a young adult novel, that’s set in the post-apocalyptic future, features a female lead, has a lot of violence, political-themes and a romance at the center.
Oh, and by the way, it’s not the Hunger Games.
However, you probably wouldn’t really be able to tell the two apart, since it’s so damn clear that this is what this movie is being made-out to be. Which, granted, isn’t such a bad thing, just as long as the material can hold itself up. I mean, hell, even the Hunger Games, before it was actually considered “respectable” amongst humans that weren’t teenage girls of gay men, was being advertised and hyped-up as “the next Twilight“. Thankfully, that never turned out to be wholly true, but so be it; this is exactly where most major, motion-picture studios are going to be putting their money into and we all might as well accept it now, or suffer long, excruciating deaths from fan-girl mania.
But anyway, I’m just talking too much out of my rump. With this movie, Divergent, there’s nothing really new we haven’t ever seen done before, or hell, even heard discussed. Sure, the idea of everybody having to conform to a certain group, in order to feel socially-accepted or be left homeless, or even worse, dead is a neat one, but it feels like a retread of what most young adult flicks have been trying to do as of late. They continue to try harder and harder to discuss politics in an underlining way, but instead, come off more like their preaching and obvious, rather than actually being sly about it.
Though, what separates this flick from most of the other YA adaptations out there, is that director Neil Burger actually feels dedicated to this material, and isn’t too afraid of getting deep down and dirty with the places this story ends up in. First of all, it’s a pretty violent movie. Many young boys and girls are seen to be either shooting each other with fake, but realistic-feeling guns; throwing knives at one another; having sparring-matches where the loser is decided by whomever passes-out first; and be forced to take a test where they have to figure themselves out cruel, disturbing nightmares of sorts. In ways, it’s actually a bit more violent than anything either Peeta or Katniss have ever done, yet, it still feels like it’s not really doing anything. It’s just being harsh and putting its audience in an awkward situation where they have to watch a guy beat the crap out of a girl, all in order to “fit in” among a group of other fellow “He-Men Woman-Beaters”.
Burger, despite the fact that the material itself is a bit too jarring for even its target-audience, still at least puts enough effort into this where the action is suitable, yet, you will still be longing for more. Mostly though, that’s exactly where the cast comes into play, because everybody here, isn’t just talented, but more than capable of handling this material. It’s only really a matter of whether or not Burger gives them much to work with in the first place; and sadly, he does not.
The only two in this cast that Burger seems to utilize the most, and for all of the right reasons, are both Shaliene Woodley and Theo James as our new, “Edward and Bella”, or, for more of those tougher-fans out there, “Gale and Katniss”. Regardless of this obvious, yet very true, comparisons, James and Woodley are great together, all because you can feel the sexual-tension between them just getting more and more rich over time – as it should. Alone, they’re just fine: Woodley really is continue to grow into one of finer, more interesting young actresses of today; whereas James is a total hunk that will have the ladies swooning, even before he takes off his shirt. However, when they are together, whether they’re arguing over rules and regulations of how to become apart of the Dauntless, or just making small, somewhat flirty, talk, they’re constantly making this flick better and a whole lot more believable. In fact, I’d wager to say that the movie is worth just seeing for them, and them alone, as the attention to their characters and their relationship in the first-half, is what makes it so watchable in the first place.
But, as expected, things start to go off-the-rails by the end, as it becomes more and more clear that this story is dealing with a “higher-power”, as well as more of an ensemble that’s absolutely wasted. Also, not to mention the fact that the movie is close to being about two-and-a-half-hours long, which is long for any movie, especially a YA adaptation. Hell, it even makes Need For Speed feel like a Saturday morning cartoon!
Anyway, what goes so wrong with this story is that it begins to just get more and more serious, and therefore, getting way too over-blown to where you don’t really if they even plan on making sequels to this and want to cram everything in, or, if this is really how jammed-up the actual story is with all of its ideas. Either way, it feels like a little too much for the starter-up of a franchise and even worse, none of it really feels believable or exciting. It’s all pretty boring, if only because we’ve seen it done a million times before and, in most ways, better, too. They definitely leave a lot left open for a sequel, or hell, maybe even two, but most of the ideas here could have easily been placed into them, for the betterment of its high-strung, core audience.
Like I was saying earlier though, about the cast: It isn’t just Woodley and James that this movie has packed-in, there’s a pretty solid ensemble that I feel like any director, with any material other than this, would have utilized so perfectly. However, here, they all just feel like a good waste of talent, time and money (although I’m definitely sure most of these stars got a pretty nice beach house out of the ordeal).
After the Spectacular Now, it’s weird seeing Miles Teller and Woodley in a scene together where they aren’t making love or flirting, but such is the case here where Teller plays a huge dick that is constantly antagonizing everyone around him, especially Beatrice; Maggie Q seems like she’ll be the only voice-of-reason in this new world, as the first gal who realizes Beatrice hidden talents, but is only around for a few scenes where she gives people tattoos and doesn’t kick anybody’s asses (which, if you’ve seen a single episode of Nikita, you’ll know is a huge shame); Jai Courtney plays another muscle-bound a-hole that doesn’t take no wussies around his part of town; Mekhi Phifer is barely ever around, despite his character being the leader of the Dauntless’; Ashley Judd, Tony Goldwyn and Ray Stevenson made me happy to see them show-up in something for a change, even if they were given barely anything to do; and probably the biggest sin this movie achieves is that it wastes Kate Winslet, giving her the “one-note baddie role”, where all she does is act mischievous and order mass-wide genocides. And why is that, may you ask? Well, it’s because she’s supposed to be a bitch. Or something like that.
Who knows?!?! Who cares?!?! Right!??!
Consensus: The post-apocalyptic future laid-out for us is a bit more grim than what we’re used to seeing in YA novel adaptations, but aside from a sparkling chemistry between Woodley and James, nothing in Divergent really stands-out to separate itself from the rest of the same types of movies that have been released in the past decade or so.
5 / 10 = Rental!!