Young Adult Fantasy ‘Divergent’ isn’t Different or Dangerous

by Eric Melin on March 21, 2014

in Reviews,Video Reviews

Divergent-2014-movie-posterA different version of this article appears at Lawrence.com. Video from KCTV5 It’s Your Morning.

Ever since the Harry Potter and Twilight film series’ have struck gold, the young-adult fantasy section of bookstores has become fertile raiding ground for the next mega-hit franchise. But for every record-breaking Hunger Games, there’s an underwhelming Eragon or an also-ran like Percy Jackson.

The latest fant-angst-ical cash cow hopeful from Hollywood is based on a trilogy by Veronica Roth and it’s called Divergent.

What I want to know is this: Do young adult authors these days write these books with the foresight to know that they may be picked up and turned into lucrative movie franchises? Also: I understand that this genre takes teenage issues of alienation and self-discovery that feel like life and death, and blows them up into literal life-and-death situations, but do they have to be so goddamned obvious about it?

In the workmanlike Divergent, adapted by Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor and directed by Neil Burger, a post-apocalyptic society in Chicago has been divided up into five cliques—I mean “factions.” And everywhere you go, the teens somehow outnumber the adults about 1,000 to one. The know-it-alls, the geeks, the jocks, the smart-asses, and the Jesus freaks are clearly defined groups, and it can be tough if you don’t fit in anywhere.

These cliques—sorry, factions—all play their specific roles in the walled-in near-future city, but if you’re one of the mild-mannered Jesus freaks who has to wear frumpy gray frocks all the time, let’s face it: You’ve been itching to sport tight leather pants and jump off of moving trains with the jocks for what seems like eternity, right?

The very capable Shailene Woodley lends some authority to a silly, one-dimensional script as Tris, a member of the Abnegation (Jesus freaks) faction who makes the decision to be a Dauntless (jock). The catch is that she’s known the whole time that she’s Divergent (different). As she learns the value of asserting her independence, the fate of the entire city hangs in the balance, and she’s got some quick growing up to do.

Along the way there’s a chaste romance, an excruciatingly long military-training sequence that’s too dumb to be satiric, and Kate Winslet phoning it in as an evil former honor student with fascistic designs. Did I mention that her brilliant plan to take over rule of the city is basically just plain genocide?

Winslet excluded, most of the actors are up to the task of treating this material with the dead serious tone it requires. Ashley Judd is a welcome sight as Woodley’s heartbroken mother in a couple of scenes and Theo James is fine, I guess, as the romantic interest. At least they are working hard to sell it.

When the plot mechanics are moving forward and there’s no time to think, Divergent churns right along, high on it’s own dumb inevitability and good intentions. Yes, kids should embrace individuality, and yes, they should think for themselves. But at two hours and twenty minutes, this thinly veiled metaphor can be rough going sometimes, and the humorless, dumb script asks way too much of its cast.

Eric is the Editor-in-Chief of Scene-Stealers and regular critic for KCTV5. He’s a member of the BFCA, VP of the KCFCC, and drummer for The Dead Girls and Ultimate Fakebook. He is also the current 2013 Air Guitar World Champion Mean Melin. Eric goes to 11. Follow him at:

Facebook Twitter Google+ YouTube 

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Trey Hock March 21, 2014 at 8:44 pm

Wow. Two hours and twenty minutes? I’m glad I missed the boat on this magical teenager movie.

Reply

2 Maria S March 29, 2014 at 7:47 pm

Why do you keep saying “Jesus freaks”?

Reply

3 Eric Melin March 30, 2014 at 4:29 pm

Because that’s the term that kids in high school most often use to characterize that group of people, and the film is not-so-subtly drawing those high school metaphors nonstop…

Reply

4 tony March 31, 2014 at 9:13 am

Nice review, well said. I didn’t buy any of the characters motivations for deciding who they wanted to be, especially the baby-faced “Tris.” She seemed lost at all times. In action sequences, she appeared to be lightly trotting when supposed to be fast, and not a convincing action hero. I’m not sure how she was portrayed in the book, but here she comes across like a meek adolescent, with dumbded-down dialogue and little chance to speak her mind.
The training sequences were endless and seem to exist only to provide catalyst for revealing the character traits. They introduce ideas and action devices that were done more effectively in other movies like Starship Troopers. For a bunch of protectors, these “Dauntless” (or jocks, as you say) are amazingly shallow, and reveal no heroic traits of selfless courage. They exist only to live in caves and jump off buildings. They are supposed to protect the city, but from what, I don’t know. They operate as priveledged mindless lackeys of a ruling dictator. Chicago of the future looks like a town of dreary limited potential, who in heck would invade the city walls? Perhaps those walls are designed to enslave rather than protect.
Pretty tiring cinema, in my opinion.

Reply

Leave a Comment

 

Previous post:

Next post: