It’s a sign you’re getting old when you can sit through a screening of a film like Divergent (2014) – the high-tech adventure based on the bestselling young adult book by Veronica Roth – and realise that you just didn’t get it. Though impressive visually, this sci-fi extravaganza directed by Neil Burger and starring Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet and Ashley Judd, lacks the soul to make the viewer really care.
In a post apocalyptic future the world is divided into factions and living in what remains of the city of Chicago. Divergent is the group assigned to protect the others. It is also the group which Tris (Woodley) is desperate to be part of. However Tris is special and her ‘secret’ if discovered could ostracise her from society forever.
Things used to actually happen in children’s books – which is still really all young adult books are – (and hence the films based on them), with usually some degree of variation and originality in story and plot. Unfortunately not now, Since the dawn of Harry Potter, most things which have followed have attempted to follow suit, usually resulting in little more than bland imitations. Which, when analysed, is all that Divergent is. Take for instance the group of kids, including Tris, from the ‘outside world’ who enter the school-like training ‘academy’ for Divergent. Or the selection process for the said academy – involving a ritual akin to using the Hogwarts’ Sorting Hat. In fact, from the academy’s cavernous dining hall and school bully cliques, to the dark forces who want to get rid of anyone they see as troublesome and inferior, much of Divergent appears a futuristic H.P. in all but name.
Then there’s the fact that, for half an hour of the two hour nineteen minute running time, nothing of significance happens. A large chunk of the proceedings involve the training procedures Divergent’s new recruits have to go through in order to be accepted into the faction. Agreed this clearly requires acknowledgement as it’s integral to proceedings. However its apparent predilection to dwell lovingly on a heightened degree of physical violence towards Tris and her friend Christina seems, at best unnecessary, and worst misogynistic.
These factors – along with the woeful underuse of the film’s real star wattage of Winslet (as a wonderfully smarmy baddie) and Judd (as Tris’s mother) – make Divergent of little interest to anyone beyond the teenage market, and unlikely to be remembered much once the final credits roll.