100 years after a war devastated the world, society is divided into factions based on virtues. When she comes of age, Tris (Shailene Woodley) must undergo an aptitude test before choosing which faction she will spend her life with. When Tris learns she does not fit in with any faction – effectively marking her as Divergent – she soon learns that she must hide this truth from her new home with the Dauntless faction, in order to survive.
Ah Divergent, another teen action movie, based on a series of young adult books, set in a dystopian future. However, Divergent does not try to be The Hunger Games – even though the similarities are certainly there – but stands on its own two feet as an entertaining, post apocalyptic fantasy action movie.
Shailene Woodley takes a step away from the role that made her famous – as George Clooney’s daughter in The Descendants – and does an admirable job as a girl lost in a world that she thought she understood. As Tris, Woodley is charming and fun, but manages to convey the drama and urgency of the film. Woodley immediately has the audience on her side with her warmth and charm, and as the character begins to enjoy her world more, so do we.
Theo James takes on the role of Four, a Dauntless trainer with a mysterious past. As a foil for Tris, James does fine, providing someone for the character to both hate and admire. Ashley Judd has a small role as Tris’s mother Natalie, Jai Courtney plays his more aggressive side as Eric, Miles Teller keeps up his trend of playing less than charming characters, and Maggie Q makes an appearance as tattoo artist/mentor Tori. Kate Winslet has one of the more interesting roles in the film, as Jeanine; leader of a rival faction with a secret agenda. Winslet is not actually given a whole lot to do in the film, but what she is given she does incredibly well, bringing an air of menace to Jeanine’s every move.
The story of the film, for all of it’s differences to The Hunger Games, does suffer from feeling a little familiar, but for all of it’s similarities, there are enough differences to keep the audience interested, and enough engaging performances and characters to keep the story moving. Precious little has been changed from the book, other than Jeanine’s part being beefed up slightly, and a scene whose removal may have fans of the book up in arms. The pacing, however is much improved from the print world, with director Neil Burger keeping an air of menace hovering over the entire affair.
The world looks good too, with Divergent set in what’s left of Chicago. Setting the story in a familiar place may have its drawbacks, but it works in Divergent’s favour, making the story feel like something that may actually happen. Some of the CG is a little on the ropey side, however, and we don’t learn enough about the individual factions to understand the world as a whole. Oh, and perhaps explaining the devastating war that led to the factions being created would have lent the film a little more clarity.
Divergent is doomed to be compared to The Hunger Games, but in the end, it is a very different beast. Shailiene Woodley shows herself to be a great leading lady – although she looks a little too childlike at times – Kate Winslet camps up the evil and seems to enjoy every second of it. It is very clear that Divergent is a set up for a franchise of films, but with warm and engaging characters and many mysteries only hinted at so far, audiences are sure to be curious about the rest of Tris’s story.