For a tale that trumpets the virtues of non-conformity, teen fantasy adventure Divergent proves disappointingly content to follow the pack.
Adapted from the first book in Veronica Roth’s bestselling trilogy, Neil Burger’s film comes across as a wan Hunger Games clone, yet another saga in which a plucky young heroine defies the odds and rebels against a totalitarian future society.
Shailene Woodley’s 16-year-old Tris (short for Beatrice) is the heroine in question, a girl living in a post-apocalyptic dystopian Chicago whose citizens are rigidly divided into five colour-coded factions based on personality – Abnegation (selfless), Amity (peaceful), Candor (honest), Erudite (intelligent) and Dauntless (brave).
Tris is from an Abnegation family, a clan of self-sacrificing souls in grey, but when it comes to the annual ritual whereby youngsters pick the faction to which they will henceforth belong, she plumps for Dauntless, the free-running-and-jumping, tattoo-sporting cool kids in black. Yet Tris is secretly Divergent, equally possessing Abnegation, Dauntless and Erudite attributes, which apparently makes her a threat to society – and to the fascistic scheming of Kate Winslet’s ruthless Erudite leader.
Tris is clearly a chip off the block of Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen, yet Woodley does her best to make her seem fresh, displaying equal quantities of tremulous vulnerability and gritty resolve as her character hurls herself off moving trains and vertiginous buildings en route to an inevitable showdown with the villainess of the piece. Winslet is great, too, her icy hauteur sending chills from the screen; and British actor Theo James provides suitable high-cheekboned hunkiness as Tris’s love interest.
So it’s a shame that the rickety plot doesn’t do them justice. Far too flimsily conceived to be convincing, Roth’s dystopia lacks the imaginative depth and richness of Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games world, while Burger’s under-powered direction fails to provide the visual flash to distract us from the story’s flaws.
Certificate 12A. Runtime 139 mins. Director Neil Burger.
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