Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Divergent (2014)

Based on a novel by Veronica Roth (the first in a trilogy), Divergent is another movie aimed squarely at the Young Adult market. It focuses on a young woman who ends up being trained for combat in a system that rewards those not up to the task with a type of banishment, or sometimes even possible death. It's also about a society ruled by people who may not always have the best interests of the public at heart. Despite these similarities, and one or two others, this ISN'T The Hunger Games. Even if it hopes to grab a piece of that pie. It's actually a bit better than The Hunger Games, in my opinion.

Shailene Woodley plays Tris, a young girl living in a society that is determined to avoid another major war. To ensure this, everyone is sorted in to one of five factions. There's a test to be taken just before you choose the faction, but you're still supposed to be able to choose a different faction if you wish. It just makes you stand out a bit if you don't follow on the path set down by your parents. The five factions are Abnegation (selfless), Erudite (intelligent), Amity (peaceful), Candor (honest), and Dauntless (brave). When Tris takes her test she is advised to pretend that she had to leave early after taking sick. It turns out that she's divergent, able to think more independently than most and not be so easily controlled. Divergents are viewed as dangerous. And Tris makes her situation worse when she goes to the choosing ceremony the next day and decides to give the Dauntless faction a go. She doesn't realise just how tough the training will be, and falling too low on the scoreboard is not an option when the consequence is being sent away to live outwith any of the factions.

Although it runs for over two hours (it's about 140 minutes, approximately), Divergent doesn't feel overlong or bloated. There are plenty of action beats that help to move things along, and the inevitable potential romance is evenly spread out throughout the second half of the film, making it less likely to induce vomiting. The screenplay by Vanessa Taylor and Evan Daugherty does a great job of getting, and keeping, viewers up to speed without grinding proceedings to a complete halt, although there are times when it's a very close call.

Director Neil Burger makes all of the right choices for the material. It's generally light, although one or two moments do venture into impressively dark territory, the soundtrack has some tracks that teenage girls should enjoy, the action is solid, although it doesn't get in the way of the character moments, and there are so many odds stacked against Tris that every small victory has the potential to make viewers smile/breathe a sigh of relief.

There's also the cast. Woodley isn't a particularly strong lead, but she's acceptable enough in the role. Theo James, as Four (a Dauntless man who takes a shine to Tris), is suitably strong and handsome, and Jai Courtney plays a bit of a git, which works perfectly considering how much I dislike him anyway. Miles Teller and Zoe Kravitz are the two other Dauntless recruits who stand out from the pack, for different reasons, and then there are supporting roles for Ashley Judd and Kate Winslet, with the latter somehow managing to be brilliant every time she's onscreen despite often appearing to deliver more exposition.

I hoped to get through Divergent without hating it, or myself, too much. It turned out to be quite a pleasant surprise. So much so that I'm now looking forward to the sequel.



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