Franchise Starter?

It seems that ever since Twilight did so well at the box-office when it was released in 2008 that movie studios are cranking out another young adult book adaptation every couple of months.  With the exception of The Hunger Games, though, none of these other potential franchises have really taken off.  Enter the latest contender, Divergent, based on the novel by Veronica Roth.  With a rising young star in Shailene Woodley in the lead role of Beatrice ‘Tris’ Prior, the hype for this movie has been growing.  Now it is time to see if it can live up to the lofty expectations.

Like The Hunger Games, Divergent introduces us to a dystopian society that came to be following a devastating war that destroyed the world as we know it.  The entire film takes place in the ruins of Chicago, where society has been separated into five factions based on specific virtues.  There’s Abnegation for the selfless; Amity for the peaceful; Candor for the honest; Dauntless for the brave; and Erudite for the intelligent.  Kids are raised in whichever faction their parents are part of, but once they come of age, they take part in a choosing ceremony.  Each of them is given a test that is designed to determine which faction they belong to, but they are still allowed to choose for themselves.

Kate Winslet as Jeanine in DivergentThere are some, like Tris, for whom the test does not have an answer.  These people are referred to as Divergents and they are considered a threat to the society.  Keeping her test results secret from everyone, Tris joins Dauntless and is immediately placed in the middle of an intense initiation process.  Should she pass, she will be welcomed into the Dauntless faction; but should she fail, she will be discarded among the Faction-less.  There is no returning to her family or any other faction.  As if this weren’t pressure enough, Tris also begins to learn of a dangerous plot by one of the factions to take over control of the others.  To do this, they are systematically eliminating the Divergents who pose the only threat against them.

Also like The Hunger Games, Divergent relies on a strong, young female character at its center.  She may not appear so on the outside, but it is the strength inside of Tris that keeps her pushing forward when the initiation tasks Dauntless presents her with start to look too, well, daunting.  Shailene Woodley does well enough in the role, but she does feel like a blank slate at times which makes it difficult to truly identify with her as a character.

Director Neil Burger and crew do a good job of creating this dystopian society.  The computer-generated Chicago ruins and the giant electric fence that surrounds them is impressive.  It looks intentionally drab and also realistic.  The costuming department does a good job of outfitting the world’s inhabitants in the colors of their specific factions, making it clear from the start who fits in where.

Where the movie falters a little is in its pacing.  The movie is two and half hours long and most of that is focused on the initiation process for Dauntless.  Whereas that is the main focus of the story, it does feel as if it could benefit from being shortened, especially since a lot of the training that goes on can start to feel very repetitive.  There’s also little that is memorable with the movie’s action.  A zip-line sequence in the middle of the film provides the movie’s most excitement, which unfortunately cannot be duplicated in the gunfights that cover the final act.

The resulting film may be weaker than the recent Hunger Games: Catching Fire, but it is on par with the original.  As long as they take the same forward steps the other franchise did in its second film, that bodes well for the franchise going forward.

Divergent is rated PG-13 for “intense violence and action, thematic elements, and some sensuality.”  There are some brutal fight moments between young boys and girls that definitely warrant boosting the rating up to PG-13.

Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of Divergent.