(NEW YORK) -- Based on the popular series of young adult novels by Veronica Roth, Divergent stars the incomparable Shailene Woodley as Tris, a 16-year-old girl living in post-apocalyptic Chicago. Although we never find out what precipitated the war that seemed to wipe out most of civilization and rendered the Windy City a disintegrating, heavily-fortified, dystopian third-world metropolis, I suspect it happened minutes after the Cubs won the World Series. (In science fiction, anything is possible.)
As Tris explains in her opening voice-over, society has been divided into five factions: Dauntless, for the brave; Erudite, the smart ones; the honest Candor faction; Amity, fostering peace; and Abnegation, for the selfless, the faction into which Tris was born. The system is designed to foster peace, but we’ll see about that.
Unlike The Hunger Games, where you have the Reaping, where two children are picked from each district to fight to the death for the amusement of others, the stakes aren’t as high here. Instead, when teens come of age, they're tested to determine which faction will be best for them -- the one in which they were born, or a different one.
Whatever their choice, the test doesn't lie. And Tris' results confirm what she's always suspected: she doesn’t fit any particular category. She's Divergent -- and the society's leaders, most notably Erudite, consider Divergents a threat to the system.
During a dramatic ceremony attended by their families, the teens choose their faction. If they choose one other than their current one, they'll essentially never see their families again. As her parents (Tony Goldwyn and Ashley Judd) look on, Tris chooses Dauntless. Despite the high emotional stakes, the scene comes across as antiseptic and rather dull -- which, unfortunately, is a trend here.
For Tris, the more she trains with Dauntless, the more she’s in danger of being discovered as Divergent. And if she is, it means certain death.
Divergent takes forever to get going, and the tension isn't particularly tense at all until the last 20 minutes of the film. Woodley, whose expressive eyes and vulnerable veneer hold your attention despite a middling script, makes up for some of Divergent’s storytelling deficiencies. Some of the film’s funniest lines are uttered by Peter, played by Miles Teller, Woodley’s fantastic co-star from The Spectacular Now. He's one of several antagonists Tris encounters throughout the film, including Four (Theo James), her hunky Dauntless drill sergeant of sorts, who quickly goes from antagonist to Tris' love interest. Nice chemistry between these two makes their storyline a little more appealing
Ultimately, Divergent is a mildly entertaining movie that only succeeds because of its talented cast. Perhaps if you’re a fan of the books you may desire to see a second film, but the first film doesn't leave the rest of us wanting more.
Three out of five stars.
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