Release Date: 4th of April 2014
Running Time: 139 minutes
Director: Neil Burger
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet, Ashley Judd, Miles Teller
An elevated train rumbles through the city as pools of similarly dressed people look up in disbelief. Without slowing, the train opens its doors and a swarm of black clad youths leap from the speeding train, laughing joyously all the while. This is the Dauntless Faction, one of five groups that society has been divided into as a result of a devastating war many years before. They’re idiots.
When teenager Beatrice – born into the selfless Abnegation Faction – is tested to see which traits she displays, she discovers she is Divergent; someone with an aptitude for several factions and a threat to the whole factional system. Told to hide this fact from everyone at all costs by her tester, Beatrice (Shailene Woodley) chooses to join the Dauntless Faction, changes her name to Tris, and begins training under the handsome and mysterious instructor known as Four.
Adapted from the massively successful young adult books by Veronica Roth, this movie already has a massive built in audience. The noise you may hear, a little like the flapping of leather wings, is the sound of Hollywood bean-counters rubbing their hands with glee in the expectation that the Divergent series will become the new The Hunger Games. In fact such is the confidence in Divergent that a sequel based on the second book was greenlit almost a full calendar year before this film was even released. Unfortunately, if The Hunger Games, in all its gaudy excess, is dystopia via Jean-Paul Gaultier, then Divergent is the GAP equivalent; expensive sure, but bland as all hell.
Clocking in at an arse-shattering two hours and twenty minutes, Divergent spends so much time explaining away its high concept premise that much of the film is bogged down in exposition, which is a worry because the central idea is far too flimsy to withstand such close scrutiny. Yet each faction has a distinctive look and the design of this world is pretty impressive. It’s tosh, but it’s well put together tosh. What’s more troublesome however is the sinister anti-intellectual position the film seems to take. The intelligent and scientifically progressive Erudite Faction, led by Kate Winslet, are conniving, controlling sneaks. This is a movie where clever people are the baddies.
Visually, the film is clean and controlled, with an elegantly gliding camera and some interesting hallucinatory sequences. In contrast, the fight scenes, shot in handheld and tight in amongst the action, are brutal and uncompromising. There are literally no punches pulled here (showing mercy is frowned upon by the Dauntless) and fights look suitably painful. Director Neil Burger seems more comfortable shooting the non-action sequences, with a lot of the fight scenes bearing a strong resemblance to the frantic shaky-cam of other films like The Hunger Games. Similarly, while she acquits herself well in other parts of the film, Woodley never seems really comfortable in these physically demanding scenes. She’s a little too anaemic to convince as a bad-ass.
Bloated, and most criminally of all, a bit boring Divergent at its best manages to divert. With a silly central premise that is laboured in the telling, Neil Burger should have trimmed the fat from this diet Hunger Games instead of giving us so much mince.