Directed by Neil Burger
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet, Ashley Judd, Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort
Young adult book series are all the rage in Hollywood now, thanks to little movies like Twilight and The Hunger Games. But, for every adventure with Katniss, there's a dud like Beautiful Creatures or Percy Jackson. The YA-adapted movie genre is definitely hit or miss. The hits are huge and the misses are embarrassing. When Divergent became a hit series of books and the movie adaptation was announced, it was a huge gamble on whether or not it would pay off. Luckily, it matches Hunger Games in scope and grandeur, allowing for a franchise of films we can all look forward to.
Starring Shailene Woodley, Divergent takes place in a dystopian future society where citizens are placed in communities, called factions. Each faction is responsible for a different piece of the society puzzle. If this sounds too similar to Hunger Games, you'll be surprised to see the similarities stop there.
Woodley, the indie darling (The Spectacular Now, The Descendants), makes her jump to mainstream as the teenage heroin Tris. Every year the 16-year olds take a test to determine to which faction of society they'd best belong. But, during a ceremony attended by each teen's family, the teen makes their choice of a faction. Tris, during her aptitude test, learns that she doesn't fit into any one faction, but could sustain them all. This phenomenon is called Divergent. The Divergents in society are not welcome, but rather hunted out. The governing leaders are not only intimidated by these people, but they convince the rest of society to despise them as well. This leaves all Divergents in a constant state of fear. Tris, when given the option to choose a faction, chooses the Dauntless faction. This is the most hardcore of all factions, including an intensely physical training session. Soon, Tris' mentor Four (Theo James), learns of her secret and does what he can to keep her safe. When the fate of Tris' family and others in society is at hand, the real action begins. Tris and Four must lead a rebellion to overthrow the governing leaders, in turn beginning a revolution throughout society.
That was probably not the best synopsis, but it gives you a basic idea of the type of edge-of-your-seat drama Divergent promises. The movie wins in much regard thanks to the great performances by its cast, including Woodley, James, Ashley Judd (it's refreshing to see her on the screen), Miles Teller, and Kate Winslet (playing a great villain). The effects and cinematography eclipse that of the first Hunger Games movie, showing just how much faith the studio had in this adaptation. While I haven't read the book series, I've heard the violence is toned down quite a bit for the film, but it still feels edgy enough to make each scene seem important. Where Hunger Games could've been more graphic, Divergent at least allows its characters to be a little more realistic in language and intentions. When Tris and Four have a romantic rendezvous it's enticing just enough to suggest what's happening without alienating the kids that are probably in the audience. It's definitely the type of film that any moviegoer can enjoy.
The soundtrack was at times distracting, but overall the film played to exactly which types of emotions it was intending to portray. This is mostly thanks to the directing work of Neil Burger, whose previous works The Illusionist and Limitless prove that he's a director who hangs on to a style no matter what.
Woodley has already received plenty of "next-Jennifer Lawrence" compliments throughout her career, so far, but this puts her on an even playing field. She knows how to emanate an emotion without going over the top. She already had fans before, but she's definitely jumping into new territory that this and June's The Fault in Our Stars will continue to build.
When YA films can consistently be disappointing, Divergent is a refreshing entry to the genre. I'm excited to see what happens next.
Runtime: 139 minutes