Adapted from Veronica Roth’s best-selling trilogy of novels, Divergent is a real disappointment.
Society in post-apocalyptic Chicago is divided into five factions: Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Erudite, and Dauntless. Each young person must take a test to determine their faction, but they can still choose another. But there’s no going back – leaving your faction means turning your back on your old life and family.
Our hero Beatrice Prior, an awkward 16-year-old from Abnegation, learns she’s equally Abnegation (selfless), Erudite (intelligent) and Dauntless (brave). However ‘Divergent’ personalities are hunted by the state, and she’s told never to reveal the true result to anyone.
Beatrice chooses to join Dauntless – the warrior class, who spend most of the movie climbing and acting like jocks on spring break. They even get tattoos. What ensues is a protracted training montage until the Erudite faction, led by an ice cold Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet), stage a coop to takeover society.
As you can tell from the not-very-subtle subtext at work, Divergent explores the struggle young people face leaving home, and that society tries its damnedest to pigeonhole you. Only this goes on for well over two hours and is so derivative it’ll make your head hurt.
The first half is a bog-standard origin story, with few surprises; the second loses its way in convoluted plot and stilted action scenes that make you feel absolutely nothing. What’s tragic is that the movie does not diverge enough from its closest competition, The Hunger Games.
But does reading the book help? Divorcing it from its source material, The Hunger Games film was engaging because you invested in Katniss, and much of its success lies with Jennifer Lawrence’s performance.
While Woodley has humanity and sensitivity, she does not command the screen. She and love interest Four (Theo James) manage simmering build-up well, but when their characters’ romance comes out of its shell it’s all too predictable – and shirtless.
Divergent is soft-serve dystopia; one that you hope a younger audience might watch as a springboard into the harder stuff. Here’s hoping that the inevitable sequels are less plodding.