PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):
In a futuristic dystopian Chicago, the survivors of a mysterious great war live in what’s left of the downtown behind a great wall keeping something unknown out, the climate is unexplainedly dry and mild, with the Lake dried up. The society is divided into Six factions: Abnegation (the selfless, pejoratively called stiffs), Amity (the peaceful), Candor (the honest), Dauntless (the brave), and Erudite (the intelligent), and those not faction members are simply called Factionless. Members join a faction based on their preference but are initially given a suggestion by an aptitude test. Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) has grown up in Abnegation, the faction that runs the government, yet has always been fascinated by Dauntless. Her father, Andrew (Tony Goldwyn), serves on the ruling council along with the head of Abnegation, Marcus Eaton (Ray Stevenson).
Every year, 16-year-olds undergo a serum-based aptitude test that indicates the faction into which they would best fit and informs their choice at the Choosing Ceremony. Beatrice takes the test with a Dauntless woman named Tori (Maggie Q) as her proctor. Her test shows attributes of three factions (Abnegation, Erudite and Dauntless), meaning she is Divergent. Tori records her result as Abnegation and warns her to keep the true result a secret, telling her that since Divergents can think independently and the government therefore cannot control them, they are considered threats to the existing social order.
The next day at the Choosing Ceremony, Beatrice’s brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) chooses Erudite, while with hesitation, Beatrice chooses Dauntless. After the ceremony, Beatrice meets Christina (Zoë Kravitz) and Al (Christian Madsen), two Candors who chose Dauntless, and Will (Ben Lloyd-Hughes), an Erudite who also chose Dauntless. The Dauntless initiates are given tests such as jumping from a moving train and taking a leap of faith from a tall building into a large dark hole. During these tests, the initiates meet Eric (Jai Courtney), a brutal leader of Dauntless, and Four (Theo James), the transfer initiates’ instructor. Beatrice volunteers first to jump off the building and leap into the hole, which has her branded as First Jumper. After the jump, when Four asks her name, Beatrice decides to shorten it to “Tris.”
Tris initially struggles in Dauntless training, ranking 32nd out of 33 after the first evaluation, but slowly improves. After being forced to fight her enemy Peter (Miles Teller) and being hospitalized, Tris almost fails out of Dauntless, but redeems herself by playing a key role in winning a capture-the-flag game.
After the physical stage of Dauntless training, the initiates are put into simulations in order to face their fears. Tris’ divergence allows her to excel at these tests, but Four warns her to conceal the reasons behind her success and to solve the challenges the way a true Dauntless would.
Tris visits her brother, Caleb, in Erudite, who tells her that Erudite is planning to overthrow Abnegation and become the ruling faction. On her return to Dauntless headquarters, Tris is attacked due to her success in training, with Peter, Al, and Drew attempting to throw her into a chasm. She is eventually rescued by Four. The next day, Al pleads with Tris for her forgiveness but she refuses and calls him a coward. Later, she is shocked to learn Al has killed himself by jumping into the chasm.
In preparation for her final test, Four takes Tris into his own fear simulations, where she finds out that one of his fears is taking orders he doesn’t want to do. She also finds out that his real name is Tobias, and he is the son of Abnegation leader and head of government, Marcus Eaton. After the simulation, Four and Tris realize their feelings for each other and share a romantic kiss. When the day of the test comes, Tris passes without revealing she is Divergent and is officially initiated into Dauntless. During the post-test celebration, the Dauntless are injected with a serum which is said to be administered as a tracking device, but which is revealed to be a mind control serum.
Controlling the heavily armed members of Dauntless through the serum, Erudite manipulates them into attacking Abnegation. Divergents are unaffected, so Tris and Four have to blend in and act as though they are affected by the serum. During a raid at Abnegation, Eric spots that Four is not under mind-control, and he and Tris both get captured. They are brought to the Erudite overseers, one of whom publicly identifies Four as Tobias Eaton. Four gets separated from Tris while she subsequently is about to be executed. Tris’ mother Natalie (Ashley Judd) appears and rescues Tris. Her heroic act of bravery then reveals that she once was Dauntless. During the escape, Tris is forced to kill Will when, under the effects of the serum, he attacks her. Shortly after an attempt to cross an alleyway, Tris’ mother is shot and killed.
Tris seeks her father for help to stop Erudite’s plan. Tris, her father, brother, and Marcus sneak into the Dauntless headquarters. Seeing that Peter is not under the serum, Tris orders him to take them to Erudite’s operations room. Her father sacrifices himself in a shootout. Tris goes in alone and finds Four, who is now under a more advanced form of mind-control that works even on Divergents. After a fight she manages to wake him from his stupor, knowing he cannot shoot her while looking at her face, for that is one of his fears. Tris and Four fight their way to the command center, where Erudite leader Jeanine (Kate Winslet) is about to start the protocols that will make Dauntless kill every Abnegation. Before Jeanine pushes the button, Tris intervenes by throwing a knife that stabs Jeanine’s hand. Tris cannot make Jeanine abort the program nor kill her since she knows the code. Instead, she injects Jeanine with the serum and orders her to stop the program. Jeanine does as she is told and when everyone is released from mind-control, she is as well and attacks Tris. Tris knocks her out and escapes the Dauntless compound with Caleb, Peter, Four, and Marcus on the train, intending to ride to the end of the tracks.
Hollywood is still looking for the next big franchise for teen and tweens. Divergent is the fist in a series of books turned to film, originally written by Veronica Roth. The big question is can this measure up to the standards set by Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and to a much lesser extent, Twilight, or will it fall into obscurity like Percy Jackson, Narnia, The Golden Compass, etc. Only one way to tell, right?
What is this about?
Born into a civilization in the distant future, Beatrice is a teenager who learns that her unique cognitive skills make her useful to the authorities. Over time she discovers that she’s a Divergent, and thus slated for elimination by the government.
What did I like?
Training doesn’t make you super. We’ve all seen these films where some average/weak person goes to get training and all of a sudden they are nearly superhuman. What this film does is make sure that we know Tris has been through some training, but she isn’t the best at what she does. I appreciate that hint of realism.
No montage. While speaking on the training issue, I must say that it was nice to not get some cheesy song while watching her train. We are treated to actual training scenes, complete with failures and injuries. Now, I have nothing against cheesy song-laden montages, but given the tone of this film, I don’t believe it would have fit.
She’s got the look. Shailene Woodley appears to be the next hot thing about to burst onto the Hollywood A-list. Truth be told, she is quite pretty. What I like, though, is how her character has the look of someone who has lived in what I would say comfortable middle class and not had to be exposed to anything dangerous. Some may even say she has that school marm look to her, especially in the early scenes when she is wearing the dress and boots. Had this been in another film, I’m sure she’s be all made up and wearing tight clothing to show off her fit physique, maybe even a convenient tear to reveal skin.
What didn’t I like?
15 minutes of fame. Just 2 1/2 hours is more than enough time to introduce and develop character, instigate conflict, and give us some decent action, right? Apparently, these filmmakers didn’t get that memo because the only action we get, aside from the training scenes, come in the last 15-30 minutes of the film. The rest of the film I would compare to the first film in a superhero franchise. It is all about the origin and who is who, forgetting everything else. Granted, I believe this was done for people like me who haven’t read the book(s), but surely they could have found a compromise, or at least condensed all that dead space.
Love is in the air. What is it about YA novels and their romance? Is it the romance that I have an issue with? No, not really. It is how the romance got started, which was almost random, but it was so telegraphed from their first meeting to the way they interacted everytime they were together, to the time when the big “secret” she was told to keep from everyone nearly got her killed. I felt this would have been better executed had it not been so obvious. Should Theo James have acted more like Jai Courtney’s character? No, because there needed to be that contrast between the two, but perhaps some indignation toward her and slowly melting into love would have been better.
Everybody else. Aside from the quartet of stars, everyone else in the film gets the shaft. Maggie Q, Zoe Kravitz, Miles Teller, and Ashley Judd (who apparently now looks like she does in the later scenes of De-Lovely), get a couple of good scenes here and there, but nothing special. It would have been nice to see the supporting character give some support, rather than just be some warm bodies who showed up to collect a check.
Divergent has been talked up to me incessantly by my neighbor’s daughter. I have to say that this wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I think this could be a worthy successor to The Hunger Games, despite the fact that Woodley isn’t as strong an actress as Jennifer Lawrence. The opening scene of Chicago looks like it could have been the aftermath of Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Kate Winslet doesn’t do much, but I think she was pregnant at the time, Jai Courtney is still being forced down our throats, and I don’t believe these factions would ever actually work. However, this somehow managed to keep my attention. I feel that this is sure to improve with the sequels, hopefully with more focus on the story and less on the love story. I will be reading the books at some point, but in the meantime I suppose I should say what I ultimately think of this film. Well, it is a solid film for its genre. There are some issues, but it is still worth a viewing or two, especially with the sequel coming out in the next month or two. Give it a shot!
4 out of 5 stars