DivergentThursday 03 Apr 2014
Director: Neil Burger
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet, Zoë Kravitz, Ashley Judd, Jai Courtney, Maggie Q, Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort, Ray Stevenson, Tony Goldwyn, Mekhi Phifer
Duration: 139 minutes
Granted, the title is no classic. Compared to the iconic, punter-baiting qualities of Twilight and The Hunger Games, Divergent sounds like it belongs somewhere between the toilet blue and liquitabs in the supermarket. But that mopey moniker didn't stop Veronica Roth's book (and two sequels) from racking up multi-million sales. Now this bestseller-turned-big screen bruiser has seen Roth's fans turn out in force, wiping the floor with Muppets Most Wanted at the US box office.
Another week, another dystopian future. This time it's Chicago, 100 years after the apocalypse, where people are divided into five groups to keep the peace: Abnegation (selfless), Amity (peaceful), Candor (truthful), Erudite (intelligent) and Dauntless (brave).
Beatrice Prior (Woodley) has grown up in Abnegation's do-gooder bosom but now, aged 16, must take aptitude tests to see which of the five groups she is best suited to, and then decide if she wants to stay where she is or move to another. That's a lot of weight on young shoulders - but nothing compared to what Beatrice will discover after taking the exam.
Sniffed at by many reviewers, Divergent is one of those movies that will itself split audiences into two groups: the cynical and the wide-eyed. How nice for a new arrival to find themselves among the devoted in the latter, with more books to add to the must-read list and another two movies to come. This one starts off feeling a bit Kids from Fame but soon turns into an interesting teen sci-fi thriller about choice (or the lack of it), destiny, Big Sister watching you and warnings from history. Oh and true love, of course.
Following her breakout film role in The Descendants, former The Secret Life of an American Teenager star Woodley proves with Divergent that she can carry a franchise. She's both a convincing tender-heart and tough-nut whose hero appeal crosses gender lines - all boding well for her lead role in the upcoming adaptation of John Green's The Fault in Our Stars.
Whether talking, shooting or smooching, Woodley's chemistry here with love interest James (death-by-nookie diplomat Pamuk in Downton Abbey) is good, but both are let down by an under-used supporting cast and an ending in too much of a hurry for its own good. That said, a very knowing nod to Star Wars near the end will hopefully throw up An Empire Strikes Back-style experience in the sequel, Insurgent.
Now there's a title.