Divergent (Summit Entertainment, PG-13)

divergent 75The cast is both talented and likeable enough and the movie good-looking enough that I was willing to give it a pass on the sometimes heavy-handedness.

 

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Regardless of whether you’re a dork for the trilogy by Veronica Roth, it’s not hard to be sold on seeing the film adaptation of Divergent. It has a strong trailer (not that that means anything) and also a great cast, reteaming The Spectacular Now stars Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller, and with Kate Winslet playing the villain. But then, have you noticed that all of the big YA movie adaptations (Twilight, The Hunger Games—you could probably stick Harry Potter in the YA category, too) all have good casts, regardless how good or bad the films turns out to be?

Thankfully, Divergent skews closer to The Hunger Games (or, more appropriately, Catching Fire) in terms of actually making use of its good cast, and as a result, the film works. It maybe shouldn’t—immediately after the press screening pretty much everyone around me started picking apart somewhat glaring plot inconsistencies, and the story itself is pretty seriously derivative of those YA series that came before it. Still, Divergent is a rather solid film, and a noticeably better looking one than many of its peers.

Our hero here is Beatrice (Woodley, who has a lot more range than it seems like she would), who shortens her name to just “Tris” as she finds her independence. We’re in Chicago, or something like it, about 100 years after a major war, and society is divided into factions for easy governance, or something. The fun part is that you get to choose your faction as a teenager, but once you decide, you can’t change your mind. After plenty of deliberation, Tris decides to become a Dauntless, the daredevil police of their world, despite familial precedence: Tris’s parents are higher-ups in Abnegation, the faction currently in charge, and her brother, Caleb (Ansel Elgort) joins Amity, a faction that appears from the beginning to be up to no good, despite purporting to be peaceful. (Too bad the kids have to pick, and can’t just have the Sorting Hat do it for them.)

As Tris is going through her training for Dauntless, and mostly failing, she learns about her true calling, which was revealed by an aptitude test in the beginning of the film: She’s a Divergent, someone uncategorizable, and thereby a danger to the state. A lot of the movie is set up to get you wondering who else might be a closeted Divergent, sort of like how you wonder who else has the shining in The Shining.

Of course, Tris picks up a love interest along the way, and it sure as hell isn’t Miles Teller’s Peter; interestingly, Woodley and Teller had great romantic chemistry in The Spectacular Now and have great antagonistic chemistry here. (Also, Woodley seems to be getting into a bind in working with the same actors in different ways—aside from going to loving Teller’s character in Now to hating him in Divergent, Ansel Elgort, her brother in Divergent, is playing her love interest in another YA adaptation, The Fault in Our Stars, due out later this year.) You can tell from the first second he’s on the screen that she’s going to fall for Four (Theo James, a dead ringer for a young Moritz Bleibtreu), a trainer for Dauntless. Four’s cohort in the sadistic training is Eric (Jai Courtney, looking kind of like Macklemore), and both are severe and hard to read, but in different ways.

A lot of the dialogue and music cues are kind of groan-inducing, but the cast is both talented and likeable enough and the movie good-looking enough that I was willing to give it a pass on the sometimes heavy-handedness. And a theme that’s common between these popular YA series is kind of a populist repackaging of the counterculture spirit, which I actually kind of like: At its heart, Divergent is about not letting yourself be put into a box, rebelling, and not worrying about fitting in. Sure, I’d take counterculture concentrate over this watered down stuff—where are you when I need you, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest?—but as far as Hollywood co-opting subversive movements from decades past goes, this is one of their most palatable attempts yet. | Pete Timmermann

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