Friday, March 21, 2014

Divergent Movie Review

Zoë Kravitz and Shailene Woodley (r) star in Divergent

Might as Well Jump!

What teenager doesn't want to "fit in," one way or another? Especially in a society with only five groups to choose from? 16-year-old Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) faces indecision (and countless other obstacles) in Neil Burger's sci-fi drama Divergent, an entertaining teen romp that overcomes numerous instances of "déjà vu" on its way to a predictable, yet pleasing conclusion.

Rotten Tomatoes Plot: DIVERGENT is a thrilling action-adventure film set in a world where people are divided into distinct factions based on human virtues. Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) is warned she is Divergent and will never fit into any one group. When she discovers a conspiracy by a faction leader (Kate Winslet) to destroy all Divergents, Tris must learn to trust in the mysterious Four (Theo James) and together they must find out what makes being Divergent so dangerous before it's too late. Based on the best-selling book series by Veronica Roth.

What’s Best: Woodley made a great first impression in 2011's The Descendants, and makes the jump to feature star with seamless ease and energy. The 22-year-old cutie is far from showy, but no less appealing: She owns both roles as Beatrice, and her alter ego Tris. Her development through the film's extended boot camp is both believable and almost endearing. Ditto for her slow-brewing romance with Four (who comes up with these names anyhow?) while she continues her transformation into "the One."

James is equally refreshing as a tough guy who doesn't need to flaunt it every 60 seconds. He has fears (most notably heights) and a secret, but also the wherewithal to take it all in stride. The only posers in Divergent are the bad guys. Lastly, kudos to Burger for taking his time with setting up a trilogy (perhaps at the expense of the first film.) I'm sure some critics will voice displeasure at how long the training takes; but Burger's tortoise wants to win the war, not just the battle. Patience, my friend. Patience.

What’s Not: 2+ hours (on top of an 18-minute delay before our screening) is asking a lot of anyone... most of all, yours truly. Divergent fancies itself as an epic franchise; so a bloated runtime seems par for the course. The final 30 minutes or so, comes dangerously close to comical, as Burger crams unleashes an arsenal of supposed action on his audience (complete with Ashley Judd providing cover fire for daughter Tris. Ugh.)

Divergent's anticlimactic finale notwithstanding, it's hard to get past the glaring similarities to Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and The Matrix. I kept waiting for Morpheus to appear and say, "I told you so." BTW, am I the only one who thought Beatrice might choose Gryffindor over Dauntless?

Best Line: Winslet's Jeanine Matthews coughs up the proverbial, 'The future belongs to those who know where they belong.' Who knew Kate Winslet was a soothsayer?

Overall: I expected a bit more originality from Burger (Limitless) but he stays true to Veronica Roth's popular novel; while maintaining a level of entertainment that's sure to win over audiences. Woodley and James are fun to watch, as are co-stars Zoë Kravitz (as Christina) and Maggie Q as Tori. I was especially taken with Dauntless as a whole... wishing for even closer examination. Winslet's inclusion as a listless clone of Jodie Foster's Defense Secretary Delacourt in Elysium is puzzling; but I'm hoping to see a more aggressive side in the sequels. There's room for polish, but Divergent makes for a fine start.