March 20, 2014

‘Divergent’: Too much build-up, not enough payoff

“Divergent” is the latest in a string of movies based on a popular young-adult novel – a fact that works against the film.

“Divergent” is the latest in a string of movies based on a popular young-adult novel – a fact that works against the film.

Based on the book by Veronica Roth, “Divergent” tells the story of Tris (Shailene Woodley), a young woman who resists society’s attempt to pigeonhole her into one of five factions. There’s a real “Hunger Games” tone to the way the world has been divided into distinct groups. And, once again, it’s those in power who bring chaos to this existence.

The decision by Tris to join the military-oriented Dauntless faction puts her into a long (really long) training cycle that has the same slow pacing as “Ender’s Game.” In both films, the central heroes are unlikely candidates who rise to the challenge when their existence is threatened.

Helping Tris through her training is the dark and broody Four (Theo James) whose worldly ways as a protector give the movie a “Twilight” touch. It all takes place in a world that looks a lot like the sanctuary in “Warm Bodies.”

One of the biggest issues with “Divergent” is it’s easy to get lost if you haven’t read the book. There’s little explanation of Tris’ world.

What is known is that events unfold in the near future after a terrible war. The enemy is not clear. There are five factions, but no answer as to why there is not a sixth devoted to artists or something else. There’s a major threat outside the city walls, but no reasoning on why that’s where all of the crops are planted. And at least one major character gets in harm’s way with little reason.

Similarities to other movies and big questions about the story pile up so high the only thing that can save the film is the chemistry between the main characters. Woodley turns in a solid performance as the young woman facing major changes in her life. And James is a dashing guardian to his young charge (maybe a tiny bit too young for him). There just aren’t any sparks when they get together.

Equally disconnected are Tris and the members of her family. A big part of this story has to do with family, but the bond between Tris and her brother, mother and father is weak.

And Kate Winslet doesn’t bring enough sinisterness to her role to make her the strong central villain this movie needed.

Maggie Q plays the most interesting character in the movie – a tattoo artist who has a secret – but her screen time wouldn’t fill a TV commercial.

Director Neil Burger spends so much time on the training sessions, there’s little left – even at 2 hours, 23 minutes – to properly develop all of the characters.

“Divergent” looks at a world filled with five factions – Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless and Erudite. For this review, Candor seems the best way to go: Honestly, this is a film that will please fans of the books. It’s not bad, but it feels too familiar and lacks the on-screen chemistry for it to win over non-fans.

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