The Hunger Games riffing on The Host does Spartacus, in a manufactured, derivative and clichéd distopian resistance tale. A factional (caste) society falls apart so that pretty twenty-something actors pretending to be teenagers can ride to the rescue; and ‘find themselves’ in the process.
The caste system in a futuristic, post-civil war Chicago is amusing for about five minutes, which is precisely how long it would last as a system of government. But the risky selection of faction over family is the basis of all Beatrice Prior’s tests and training, at the end of which – don’t you know it; she is The One. There’s always One.
Beatrice abandons her birth caste ‘Abnegation’ (more cool pseudo-codswallop-naming a la Maze Runner) to go to ‘Dauntless’, the reckless, whooping, free-running warrior caste. Shailene Woodley (The Fault in Our Stars) as ‘Tris’ is an bland leading lady; a cutprice J-Law, twinned with Hayden Panetierre (Heroes), but lacking precisely the gutsy spark of a Saiorse Ronan (The Host). She fails to convince as a daredevil
Beginning as a mousey, introvert teen, of course she chooses Dauntless with their brain-numbingly stupid stunts – climbing the subway pylons, jumping the subway trains; how many kids have killed themselves trying to emulate this garbage so far?
Divergent is the usual Harry Potter, Enders Game trials of the misfit non-conformist fighting against all odds to become a fearless resistance leader. Thanks to Tris’ remarkable multi-functional, divergent brain, she wins the Dauntless wargames. There’s brainwashing, a military insurrection, and a conspiracy of intellectuals and scientists to seize power. For the young ladies, Theo James smoulders as leading man ‘Four’ – really, is that the best you could come up with, Ms. Roth? Twenty-six if he’s a day, Four also has his secrets, like R-Patts in Twilight.
Based on Veronika Roth’s under-graduate teen adventure novels, this is another studio hunt for a billion-dollar franchise. Director Neil Burger (Limitless) makes the best of a truncated script from screenwriters Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor but doesn’t have distinctive source material.
Naturally, we have to have a pantomime villain, and in these enlightened feminist times, it’s the corporate executive of Erudite Faction (Oscar-winner Kate Winslet), who has broken through the glass ceiling only to become a fascist dictator by military and scientific coup. Winslet does her best to be chilly and insufferably self-righteous, but underplays so deeply she fails to make the grade as a Bond villain in her gleaming hi-tech den. Who’d have thought we’d be wishing for a Diane Kruger performance?
As social commentary, nobody comes out of this very well. The selfless Abnegation caste is put down as “stiff’s.” Nobody trusts the over-educated, supercilious Erudites while the Dauntless leadership is filled with sadistic, meat-headed jocks.
Divergent tries to be desperately earnest, but the underground fight-camp, Matrix-style training simulations and oceans of faultless but vaguely uninspiring CGI landscapes fail to make a mark. The final act is so much by-the-numbers Tomorrow People tedium you’re glad of it’s trite non-climax, even though it’s just the set-up for episode two.
Rather than this cynical and empty-headed adolescent marketing exercise, just see The Host instead. RC
Director: Neil Burger
Screenwriters: Evan Daugherty, Vanessa Taylor
Genre: Sci-fi, Acction, Adventure
Running time: 139 minutes
Cast: Shailene Woodley,Theo James,Ashley Judd,Jai Courtney, Ray Stevenson, Zoë Kravitz, Miles Teller, Tony Goldwyn, Ansel Elgort, Maggie Q, Mekhi Phifer, Kate Winslet, Ben Lloyd-Hughes, Christian Madsen, Amy Newbold
Related: The Host