There are similarities: A grim vision of the future, young people facing off against each other, young people facing off against authority, unconsummated sexual tension and… cool costumes. As happens in another recent movie, a ceremony near the film’s beginning brings the citizenry together as it tears families apart.
But—–Divergent is not The Hunger Games and Shailene Woodley is not Jennifer Lawrence.
In a bombed-out futureworld Chicago, Tris Pryor (Woodley) faces a choice she must make: Which of five factions will she choose to join? The smart folks are Erudite, the peaceful people are Amity, those who cannot lie are Candor, the brave and daring are Dauntless and the selfless belong to Abnegation.
Tris does not fit neatly into any one of those categories, so she is destined to be Divergent (according to personality testing). However, when choosing time comes, she picks Dauntless.
Her training is brutal, but she makes it through with help from one of the team leaders, the hunky Four (Theo James). He realizes that she’s a bit brainy for Dauntless, but he makes it work. It’s not a spoiler to tip that they fall in love.
The Dauntless leaders get their crew involved in a political battle. Erudite, led by Jeanine (Kate Winslet) is looking to overthrow the government run by Abnegation, whose leaders include Tris’ parents.
Divergent establishes its characters and tells its story clearly. Its violence is direct but not gory. The effects are good but not overbearing. A favorite scene is a nighttime zipline ride from the top of the John Hancock building. Wheeeeee!
Shailene Woodley received an Oscar nomination for her work in The Descendants. She was good in last year’s The Spectacular Now. For Divergent, she has been handed the keys to a franchise. Her acting chops are strong. But can she command an action role? I say yes. (Her Spectacular Now co-star Miles Teller is a fellow Dauntless trainee, FYI.)
Woodley may have the prettiest eyes in movies, but her look is not glam. She’s not a hardbody, but manages to pull off the athletic moves necessary to play Tris. (Not all of that work can be done by stunt doubles.)
The key to the success of Divergent will be, as with the Potter/Twilight/Hunger films, the passion of fans of the books. But for those of us who did not read the Divergent book, the movie is solidly entertaining. While it resolves its main plot issue, there will be more to come. The sequel Insurgent is due out in March 2015.