by Sherry Lipp
With the huge success of The Hunger Games, it’s no surprise movie studios would be searching for the next teen sci-fi adventure. Divergent based on a book series by newcomer Veronica Roth, fits the bill nicely. The Hunger Games tells the tale of a teenage girl who must rise above her meager beginnings to outsmart the oppressive government of the oppressive and dystopian society in which she lives. The same basic description could be applied to Divergent. Let’s face it, the same description could be given to a great many sci-fi tales (just substitute teen girl for teen boy, loner outcast etc) since the dawn of storytelling. That’s fine. New ground doesn’t have to be broken if we have a well-told story. Full disclosure, I haven’t read the books, but in this film we don’t have a well-told story. It’s not horrible, it’s just kind of boring.
I could go on and on comparing Divergent to The Hunger Games, but I won’t. I’ll just say that while The Hunger Games wasn’t really all that original, it’s kind of a teen-lit Running Man with less satire, it looks like fine literature compared to Divergent. Why? More imagination and better characters. Divergent plays by all the rules. It has a hero we can all relate to. Beatrice – aka Tris – (Shailene Woodley) lives in the most boring of the five factions that rule society. Her faction, Abnegation (and yes those names are hard to remember) is “selfless.” They spend all their time helping others without a thought of themselves. They wear only gray loose-fitting clothes and they aren’t even supposed to look in the mirror to see if they look okay before going outside. That would be vain.
No wonder Beatrice feels dissatisfied. All she does all day is hang out with her parents (Ashley Judd and Tony Goldwyn) and her twin brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) handing out food to the “factionless” – aka homeless. Beatrice just knows she is meant for more and looks forward to taking the aptitude test, given to all 16-year-old, that will possibly put her into a new faction. Upon taking the aptitude test Beatrice discovers that she is not meant for the facist society in which she lives. She is “divergent” which means she doesn’t fit into any particular group.
Divergent introduces many familiar themes – loss of individuality, oppression as a way of maintaining a peaceful society and it’s also a basic coming-of-age story. Beatrice chooses what seems like the most exciting factioin – the Dauntless. The Dauntless are the protectors and are supposed to be brave at all times. They run around on the tops of buildings and leap from speeding trains and basically engage in all kinds of reckless behavior. Never once do we see anyone do anything that benefits society in a way, though we are supposed to believe they are some kind of elite police force. Beatrice, who renames herself Tris, soon finds that the militaristic nature of the Dauntless isn’t as fun as she thought it was going to be.
She also finds she is still an outcast and she will have to forever hide her divergent identity from the government. The high-ranking official Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet) seeks to eradicate the free-thinking divergents from society as they pose a threat to the conformity that keeps everything in check. So we know Tris has to do something to change things. That’s just the nature of this type of story. We know oppressive societies are bad and we know the rebels who try to stop the oppression is good. There’s nothing new here.
The Blu-ray looks and sounds great. There’s certainly nothing to complain about there. As far as special features go, they are pretty decent. There is a 47 minute making-of documentary (broken into four parts) that goes beyond the standard EPK puff-piece. There are also two audio commentaries, one with director Neil Burger and the other with Producers Lucy Fisher and Douglas Wick. Additionally, there are some deleted scenes and a music video for “Beating Heart” by Ellie Goulding.
Perhaps if Divergent had had a little more fun with its concepts it could have been a better story. Tris is just so boring. We root for her because we know we are supposed to not because she has demonstrated anything that really makes us want to root for her. The story is so familiar it’s easy to float along with it, but there is nothing of any real substance to hold onto in the end.