It will seem familiar to you, their plight, their anguish, their struggle. You know how this story will go, even if you haven’t read the books. Surprises are few and far between, and plot lines do everything but deviate. Still, “Divergent,” which comes across as a hybrid of “Hunger Games” and “Twilight” with a dash of sci-fi, fights against the notion that we’ve had our fill of these post-apocalyptic, dystopian worlds where one character is going to save the world — or destroy it.
As Kate Winslet says, her voice laced with a biting contempt, “there’s a certain beauty in your resistance.” And so there is with “Divergent,” the latest in book-to-film adaptations featuring a less-than-ideal world with a hero-in-the-making. You may know this story, but that’s OK. You still want to watch it play out.
“Divergent,” like “Hunger Games,” opens in a dystopian society, several centuries removed from our modern day. Enclosed behind an intimidatingly enormous fence, the citizens of this altered Chicago live in world where society takes a sharp bent toward fascism, where children are asked of a loyalty on the verge of fanaticism.
The new order here is factions. Our citizens, wary of a war that devastated the world some time ago, are divided into five factions based on a primary, defining characteristic. The Amity could be considered hippie farmers, forever smiling. The Candor? Exactly what their names suggest: Valuing truth, they can only speak the truth, making them perfect for running the judicial system. The Erudites are the scholars of the bunch, seeking knowledge for knowledge’s sake. The Abnegation are selfless and modest, suited for government work. Then there’s the Dauntless, who — with their piercings and tattoos and insane parkour skills — protect the city from ... umm, that’s never really explained. But like they say, there’s a fence for a reason.
Our titular character, if you will, is Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley, “The Spectacular Now”), a young girl about to partake in a ritual ceremony known as the Choosing Day. Here, 16-year-olds make the choice of which faction they will belong to. Heavy, right? Well...
You see, Beatrice isn’t like the other kids. It’s said 95 percent will join the same faction as their parents. Her parents, portrayed by Ashley Judd and Tony Goldwyn, are Abnegation leaders. While some kids transfer to other factions, it’s rare. Though not as rare as those who don’t fit neatly into any category. They are called divergent.
Guess what Beatrice falls into. It should be no surprise that her personality doesn’t fit a mold. Kind, but not necessarily quick to help the less-fortunate. Brave, but unskilled. Smart, but unsure of herself. So, to the surprise of everyone but the audience, she chooses Dauntless faction. She does, however, keep her Divergent testing secret.
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Quickly shortening her name to just Tris, she finds herself entangled in a dangerous time, with her society in flux and tension rising everywhere. Especially when she meet the film’s moody heartthrob, Dauntless trainer Four (Theo James), and his polar opposite, the fierce Eric (Jai Courtney).
Then there’s the chilling Erudite leader, Jeanine (Kate Winslet), who makes no excuses for wanting her faction to take control of the city.
For those who’ve read the books, the movie sticks pretty close to the source material, with some expected changes to keep the movie flowing. As with most first-parters, “Divergent” is heavy on the exposition, forcing the movie to clock in at just about 2.5 hours. Thankfully, leads Woodley and James keep you entertained throughout most of the film, tugging you along as Tris combats foes of all varieties.
Director Neil Burger (“Limitless”), working with a script from Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor and based on the book by Veronica Roth chooses to play it safe here. With few surprises, it’s hard to be disappointed, or so goes the logic. The movie is engaging and fun, though it does leave you wanting a bit more bite. Such is the conundrum with young adult-targeted movies. Rarely is there ever the right blend of youthful idealism and realistic outcomes.
Here’s hoping “Insurgent,” the sequel in this three-parter due out in 2015, holds up to its name.
Three diverging stars out of five.