Film review: Best to diverge away from ‘Divergent’

Film review: Best to diverge away from ‘Divergent’
Tris (Shailene Woodley), and Four (Theo James) in “Divergent.” Photo by Jaap Buitendijk

“Divergent” tries to come into its own but fails in its strive for individuality, all because it can’t recognize the absence of color and depth within its uninteresting personality.

In the future, humanity has attained a period of stability ever since society divided itself into five virtue-based factions: Amity, Candor, Erudite, Abnegation, and Dauntless.

Every teenager is presented with a choice: either you stay with the faction you were born into, or you transfer to a new one. No matter your choice, you must serve your community.

Unfortunately, Beatrice “Tris” Prior (Shailene Woodley) is Divergent, which means no category is a perfect match for her, making her a threat to everything society stands for. As she navigates the challenges of hiding her secret, Tris discovers a sinister conspiracy brewing in her seemingly ideal world.

“Divergent” claims to have an identity of its own, and insists that it doesn’t fit into any one category. Well, it’s one thing to say you’re unique, but it’s another to prove it.

The truth is, “Divergent” has nothing to prove, because nothing about its much-publicized uniqueness is true.

But what’s worse is that its generic personality doesn’t relegate it to “time filler” status. If anything, it disappears into the crowd and never raises its head again.

In terms of plot structure, the film lacks focus; it can’t decide whether to concentrate on what makes Divergent people a threat to the five factions or emphasize Dauntless members’ responsibilities.

Because of this shortcoming, the script stumbles at key dramatic moments such as when certain supporting characters die or revelations concerning the factions emerge.

Without a clear direction, the film can’t expect to survive.

But most important of all, “Divergent” refuses to answer the number one question: what makes being Divergent so dangerous? This question is brought up many times throughout the film, but never receives a detailed response.

I’d hoped for some clarification on this issue; alas, director Neil Burger doesn’t fill in the blanks, thereby creating more blanks that can’t be filled. I don’t like delivering bad news, but if there is no sufficient answer to a question, there is no film.

By the way, I think this is the first time that a film’s human-centric action sequences have failed to impress me, not because of technical problems but because of lifelessness.

All those fistfights and firefights involving Tris and her fellow teammates appear to exude energy and spirit, but looks can be deceiving.

None of the fights, both small and big, possess a degree of tension, and are too simulated to come off as natural.

The physical and mental tests required to join Dauntless also become repetitive far too quickly.

All I saw were the same hallucinatory fear sessions and dimly-lit sparring matches — again and again to the point where I wondered, does this film suffer from a lack of imagination?

Perhaps that is the case, given the monotonous nature of these tests.

Burger’s choice of cast is…unsatisfying, to say the least.

Accomplished indie actress Shailene Woodley (“The Spectacular Now”) could not carry the film as Tris, no matter how genuine her intentions and efforts were. The same applies to Theo James, whom I believe was relatively colorless in his role of the mysterious Dauntless warrior Four.

And why the chemistry between them didn’t involve expressing how they felt about each other baffles me.

The supporting actors, which include Ansel Elgort, Zoë Kravitz, Maggie Q, Jai Courtney, Miles Teller, and Kate Winslet, display limited emotional range (almost certainly due to the story/script problems).

Their characterizations are too dull to make much of an impression, and you learn next to nothing about them. Such a shame they couldn’t even save “Divergent” from itself.

It hurts to have no name, and I can only imagine how much “Divergent” must be hurting from the realization that its name carries no distinctive traits.

And because this newest addition to the young-adult movie craze has nothing to call its own, it is only logical to assume that its sequel, “Insurgent,” will face the same problems.

MPAA rating: PG-13 for intense violence and action, thematic elements and some sensuality.

Run time: 2 hours and 19 minutes

Playing: In general release


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