Divergent12 ¦ Blu-ray, DVD
Cinema has always gone through cycles in its history. It's no coincidence, for instance, that during the forties and fifties the western was a popular genre. Not only did many of cinema’s biggest actors appear in them – like your John Waynes and James Stewarts – but also the advent of Cinemascope in the fifties was perfect for widescreen vistas. Audiences went to see them and the studios churned out more of them to see.
With Hollywood running out of fresh ideas and always looking for something new to make money out of, it has jumped on the Young Adult Fiction bandwagon – a genre that has given us such joyous cinematic experiences such as the Twilight and The Hunger Games franchises. Here then is yet another tie-in cash in.
Chicago, sometime in the future, and the world has changed much. Society has evolved into five distinct factions: Abnegation, Candor, Dauntless, Amity and Erudite. Everyone is born into their own faction but at the age of sixteen they have to take a test to help decide which faction they will join for life.
Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) grew up in the Abnegation faction; it's not the most exciting faction, given that they run the government, but they do important work, and it looks likely that that's where she'll stay.
During her test however, she decides to be brave and chooses the rather sexy Dauntless; they dress up in cool threads and protect all of the factions. What the test also revealed was that she didn't necessarily fall into any one category; the few people such as her are known as Divergents and they're frowned upon by society as a whole. Luckily for her, her tester swore she'd keep that bit of news to herself.
With a new faction, she decides to go by a new name – Tris – to mark new beginning. It turns out though that just because she chose the Dauntless, this doesn't mean that she's automatically a member. There's a long, hard training process ahead that will weed out the wheat from the chaff. And as if that wasn't enough, she also has to contend with the fact that she might be Divergent, which comes with a whole new set of baggage to deal with.
As is the formula for these types of films, the story is far greater than just one episode. This has absolutely nothing to do with Hollywood wanting to squeeze as much as possible out of these cinematic cash cows.
Director Neil Burger (The Lucky Ones, Limitless) has the unenviable task of setting up the story for the rest of the franchise to follow. And he certainly takes his sweet time in doing so as this instalment drags on for two and a half hours.
During this period, essentially what audiences are treated to is a workout video for dysfunctional teens. Woodley is seen growing from a feeble teen into a hardened fighter: imagine the training sequence in Rocky lasting 140 minutes and you’ll get the picture.
It's all so very predictable; it's like Burger had a cliché checklist and dutifully ticked everything off it.
It's dull too, both in terms of the script and the way it looks. Everything about it is so very grey.
It's even difficult to get excited about the lead; Woodley satisfies the 'before' brief, with all the teen angst and worry that comes with it, but the post-training Tris just isn't that impressive. Her hair looks a little stronger but that's about it. She just doesn't have the range of someone like Jennifer Lawrence, who is clearly a far better actor than is necessary for her role in The Hunger Games. Woodley is just too limp, girly and fragile to make the competent, believable transition the part clearly needed.
And if you thought that was bad news, then you should sit down as there are a further three more instalments planned, and even better, the last instalment has been deemed to be so gripping that it is best to split it into two parts in order for its fans to see how very gripping it is. How very original.
If you're a fourteen-year-old young woman who has invested a considerable amount of time reading the books, then perhaps this film may offer something by way of entertainment. For the rest of you, you're very much on your own.