Somewhere after the 100 minute mark of Divergent, the much-hyped teen epic seems to realize that not only does the film need an ending, but some sort of suspense and climax as well.
The two hour and twenty minute adventure is more than happy to take its time settling into a rather simply-structured futuristic dystopia, leaving the viewer hard-pressed to feel anything resembling the grandiose or epic.
And it’s only because Divergent hints and nods and teases in the direction of something with meaning and gravitas that it all becomes a bit disappointing – the intimate and introspective is done well, but you can’t help but expect something more from a hopeful franchise that looks to rival The Hunger Games and herald in another impressive young female role model on a medium where there can never be enough (and there isn’t enough).
Based on the book of the same name by Veronica Roth, who penned a trilogy and laid the foundation for films to follow suit, Divergent will certainly appeal to fans that are eager to see beloved characters come to life, and while it’s sure to the most faithful, it’s all a bit unfulfilling.
Shailene Woodley brings to life Beatrice Prior, a curious, determined, resilient young woman who just may not be as easily categorized and sorted as the government would like her to be. Tris, as she later goes by, lives in a post-war, walled-off, and badly-beaten Chicago (as we know, Michael Bay did quite a number on the Windy City in Transformers 3: Robots Fight Again), ruled with exacting power by a cold (and American) Kate Winslet.
This world is divided into five factions; tested as teenagers to determine the group they best fit, citizens opt for a role from which they can never leave (and forever don a corresponding coloured-garb so as to easily identify and save them from having to make any wardrobe choices).
Tris is raised from a family that lives in Abnegation, meaning they are selfless, refuse to stare in mirrors, and are forced to wear gray, formless attire resembling potato sacks. There is Amity (the farmers), Erudite (the brains), Candor (the honest and maybe the comedians), and Dauntless (the ones who wear black, and run around in random acts of joy like they are in a Pepsi commercial).
A walking metaphor, Tris soon finds out she doesn’t fit as nicely into one of these boxes as her parents and her government would prefer. Being a complex and varied (what we would call being, you know, human) is her ‘divergent,’ meaning you are a threat to the controlled environment and you’re going to have to be killed.
Played with great humanity and honesty by a very charming Woodley, Tris opts for Dauntless upon selection day, a ritual in which the addition of a blood sacrifice makes it unintentionally funny. Thank goodness she goes Dauntless; had she chosen Amity, this would be an even less exciting movie.
So Dauntless means she has to become physically and mentally tough. She has to climb bridges, engage in the biggest of trust falls, and fight her fellow male and female competitors. Much of the film is in fact her training, making it feel like we’re at fitness camp with one extended montage. It’s hard to come by tension and peril; there is grit and blood, yes, but a sense of destiny and magnitude is lacking.
It is during this lengthy training she meets Four, one half of the good teacher/bad teacher duo that is the Dauntless Leaders; a studded Jai Courtney is the other, and he cares not for safety or failure. The mysterious numerically-named, as played impressively too by Theo James, takes a cautious liking to Tris (hey, maybe they will team up).
Their growth is far more interesting than anything else that happens, in part because once the training is over and they start to really question what their oppressive government is doing, it’s all very hurried and predictably done. They may be written as such in the book, but the plot points are clichéd, and almost tended to with reluctance.
For now, it’s a poor man’s Hunger Games, never reaching the heights it seems so desperate to strive to. There is the sense of greater things to come, but we should never be waiting this long.