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Movie Review: “Divergent”

Cinematic Curmudgeon new logoBY VAN ROBERTS

 

The immaculate cinematic adaptation of Veronica Roth’s futuristic bestseller “Divergent” (*** out of ****), set in a post-apocalyptic Chicago, is neither as gripping nor as gritty as its literary counterpart. I read the first installment of Ms. Roth’s trilogy two weeks ago, and adventurous but formulaic best describes its narrative content. Interestingly, Summit Entertainment is the same Hollywood studio that regaled us with the “Twilight” franchise as well as the “The Hunger Games” online casino movies. Based on the $56-million “Divergent” coined during its first weekend, Summit has launched its third lucrative franchise. By its second week of release, “Divergent” should recoup the remainder of its $85 million production budget before the “Captain America” sequel stomps it into obscurity at the box office. Comparably, “Divergent” lacks the forbidden romance of “Twilight” and the pugnacious pluck of “The Hunger Games.” Happily, it surpasses its closest competitors—the anemic “Vampire Academy” and “Twilight” novelist Stephanie Meyer’s other dead-on-arrival teen tale “The Host” that concerned a similarly feisty female. Chiefly, “Divergent” differs because its’ government lacks the Draconian nature of its counterpart in “The Hunger Games.” The fascist government that keeps its boot wedged firmly against the collective neck of Katniss Everdeen, her friends and family in “The Hunger Games” is conspicuously absent in “Divergent.” Our heroine, Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley of “The Descendants”) isn’t like Katniss, and she doesn’t define herself with an iconic choice of weapons so much as a lifestyle pursuit. Ultimately, like “The Hunger Games” and “Star Wars,” Beatrice finds herself caught in a flawed society that treacherous dastards seek to sabotage through any means at hand. Consequently, “Divergent” doesn’t have the same built-in, ticking time bomb conflict that “The Hunger Games” has with a rebellion. Indeed, this predicament isn’t far ahead for Beatrice and company, but at least not in this origins opus.Divergent_poster_hq

“Limitless” director Neil Burger and “Snow White and the Huntsman” writer Evan Daugherty and “Game of Thrones” scribe Vanessa Taylor depict a dystopian society that has split itself into factions to prevent any one fraction from gaining the dominance. Indeed, the unrest that lurks ominously in “Divergent” grows out of a conspiracy between nefarious members of two fractions. The message, I suppose, is grown-ups aren’t entirely trustworthy. Meanwhile, “Divergent” opens with a gathering where teenagers can declare the fraction of their choice. At age sixteen, male and females assemble for The Choosing Ceremony. Basically, after a war that ended 100 years ago, the survivors divided themselves into a handful of groups: Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, and Erudite. Each group epitomizes a personality virtue. Abnegation contains selfless folks who place the needs of others before their own. They feed the poor wretches who are not members of a fraction. Amity represents the peaceful people. Candor is made up of those who exalt honesty and truth. Erudite worships intelligence and sagacity. Not surprisingly, Dauntless embraces bravery and irresponsible impetuosity. Our dowdy protagonist Beatrice hails from a selfless Abnegation family. Abnegates dress in gray and are contemptuously referred to as ‘stiffs.’ Andrew (Tony Goldwyn of “Ghost”) and Natalie (Ashley Judd of “Kiss the Girls”) are Beatrice’s parents. Caleb (Ansel Elgort of “Carrie”) is Beatrice’s only brother. Before The Choosing Ceremony, each teen submits to an aptitude test. The results indicate the fraction suitable for them to join. Dauntless member Tori (Maggie Q of the TV series “Nikita”) exams Beatrice. The rules dictate the test administrator must belong to a different faction. Something goes wrong with Beatrice’s test. “You’re different. You don’t fit into a category,” Tori confides in Beatrice. “ They can’t control you. They call it Divergent. You can’t let them find out about you.” Testing divergent is the absolute worst thing that can occur to a teen in this society. All fractions will spurn them if the divergent test results are made public. A sympathetic Tori warns Beatrice to conceal her status from everybody, especially her parents. Nevertheless, this impediment doesn’t stop Beatrice from surprising her mother and father. She joins the Dauntless. She struggles to keep up with these adrenaline junkies. They love to scale the elevated railway platforms and scramble aboard trains as the trains are breezing out of the station. Getting off these trains proves to be even more challenging! The Dauntless expects them to hurl themselves off the trains and land on nearby rooftops. Eventually, Beatrice renames herself Tris and braves perils galore during her initiation rituals, including a homicide attempt on her life. Gradually, she evolves from a lowly worm to a self-propelled butterfly with a kick. Along the way, she attracts the eye of one of her superiors, Four (Theo James of “Underworld: Awakening”), and an amorous relationship develops between them.

Anybody who has read Roth’s novel shouldn’t be surprised by the textual omissions Burger and his scenarists have deleted some of the more violent episodes. The use of chemicals to test Dauntless faction members, especially with regard to their fears, resembles the missions in “The Matrix.” Like “The Matrix,” “Divergent” wrestles with the theme of conformity. Our tenacious heroine learns how to handle herself during rigorous boot camp combat. As the finale appears on her horizon, Tris learns more about those she loved, particularly her gun-wielding mother. She discovers more resources in herself than she thought possible, too. She enters the Dauntless world as an expendable but emerges as an elite member. The scene on the Ferris wheel is terrific. The casting is letter perfect. Actress Shailene Woodley was born to play Beatrice. She looks comfortable in the role. Although co-star Theo James appears a little too old as her boyfriend Four, the two generate convincing chemistry and that makes us care about their fate. “Titanic’s” Kate Winslet plays the chief villain, and Jai Courtney of “Jack Reacher” is appropriately sinister as Eric, who outranks Four in the Dauntless hierarchy. Nothing about “Divergent” is remotely offensive in terms of either action or romance, and its charismatic cast maintains our attention despite the lengthy 140-minute running time.

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