Another year, another YA book series turned into a subsequent film adaption in the hope that it'll make obscene amounts of money so that they can make a sequel followed by the next one that'll probably be split into two parts, so as to capitalize on even more on green backs. [Divergent](movie:593270) is the latest film to follow this trend, and how does it fair? Full disclosure: I've never read the book, so I'm just going off of what I saw in the movie.
On the scale of [The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1](movie:25327) to [The Hunger Games](movie:44466), Divergent is sitting pretty squarely in the middle of the spectrum. In having read the books and seen the films, it's impossible not to be thinking of Hunger Games throughout Divergent's entire 139 minute runtime.
The basic story involving a repressive regime that wants to silence any person that thinks differently than they do is done in both films, albeit far better in Hunger Games. The Capital is a symbol of opulence, excess and oppression that's personified by the bone-chilling and conniving President Snow. In poverty-stricken District 12 is Katniss Everdeen who's the face and voice of the resistance. We understand her thoughts, feelings, hopes, desires and fears. Compare that to Divergent where Kate Winslet (who looked pretty bored here) who's the face of the Erudite faction that are trying to oppress anyone being divergent, because it ruins the whole system by allowing "free thought" or whatever. Where Hunger Games built up its world well and gave a genuine feel to both the poverty (despite nobody ever really looking all that terribly famished) and the wealth, Divergent doesn't really establish its world in a convincing fashion.
The film raises lots of interesting and thought-provoking questions involving individuality, where you belong, facing your fears, etc... Sure, there are the five factions (Abnegation, Erudite, Dauntless, Amity, Candor) as well as The Factionless, but "the world" of the story doesn't really feel like an actual part of the story. Director Neil Burger spends the first half of the film unfortunately caught going through mounds of endless hoops and requisite exposition to try to explain all of the context for those who haven't read the book. Burger has proven to be a talented director in the past with "that other magician movie from 2006" The Illusionist, The Lucky Ones and Limitless. Those three films were all character-based and really delved into what made each character tick.
However, Divergent almost feels like Burger gets lost here in trying to set up the rules of the film's universe and loses track of telling an interesting story with engaging characters. The pacing of the film is wildly off with its erratic nature. Shailene Woodley has proven to be a capable actress in the past with films such as The Descendants and The Spectacular Now, but her role here as Tris doesn't really give her much to do other than be scared a lot and/or then be sad. At least it was fun to see Miles Teller play a jerk. Of course they were only supposed to be small roles, but watching the talented likes of Tony Goldwyn, Ashley Judd and Ray Stevenson being put to waste was rather disappointing.
Where The Hunger Games really set up for what was at stake, Divergent just mostly feels blase and borig. Very few scenes in the first two thirds of the film ever feel like what the characters are doing are actually of a pressing nature. Most scenes just kinda happen matter-of-factly with no real energy or narrative drive to them. The film drags on and just feels like it's going through the motions until the adrenaline kicks in for the obvious climax. As paint-by-numbers as the final third is, at least it had a bit of kick and vibrancy to it. The film meanders for the most part, gets to the last act and sadly feels rushed. It's almost as if Burger needed to swiftly wrap things up in an attempt to get a green-light for the inevitable sequel down the pipeline. All in all, Divergent is neither great nor terrible, just okay.
2 stars out of 5