views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Divergent (12A)
Vue, Islington
1st April 2014

★★☆☆☆

Just when you thought that all big ticket films were predictable and samey, along comes Divergent, based on the novel of the same name by first-time writer Veronica Roth. The adjective means "tending to be different", and based on that, the film does not disappoint. It stars Jennifer Lawrence from The Hunger Games - but younger. The Sorting Hat chooses your house - sorry, faction - but you don't have to accept its choice! The broody love interest with seemingly extraordinary powers is not a vampire or a werewolf - he's a human. A human! How different or edgy could this film be? And just to round it off, there's a lot of running. Oh, so much running, if only future dystopian Chicago still cared for brand names, this could have been a product-placement dream, just like I, Robot. I still can't think of that film without picturing Will Smith's size 11 1/2 Converse.

Maybe that's a distracted opening, but Divergent isn't engaging enough to hold anyone's attention for 143 minutes. It's rare that I find a film overlong, but this one could do with a lot more editing. It revolves around confused 16-year-old Beatrice (actually Shailene Woodley, not Lawrence, but the posters make it hard to tell the difference), who has to make a difficult choice which will impact on the rest of her life. "Faction before family" - she needs to decide where she fits into society and there's no going back.

I feel the need to stress Beatrice's age both to highlight the ridiculousness of being forced to make a life-changing decision at only 16 (which is actually one of the cleverer pieces of commentary rolled up in the plot) and because of the love story between her and Four (Theo James). The real life difference is seven years and whilst that really isn't much normally in the way of playing ages, here it stands out. So, for the record, Tris (much cooler than Beatrice, no?) is not quite jailbait. At least by present-day UK standards.

Having grown up in the Abnegation faction as the daughter of two very important movers and shakers, Tris has the choice of staying in the "selfless" group, which rules over the city, or joining Amity (the "peaceful" farmers), Erudite (the "intelligent" Ravenclaws), Candor (the "truthful" or rude, depending on your point of view) or Dauntless (the "crazy" faction). Most people fit into one faction, Tris is rather more special than that and could easily adapt to any. (It's called being "divergent", didn't you catch the name of the film?) Being 16, she naturally opts to join the crazies. Who wouldn't at that age? They look cool. Completely off their rockers, but cool.

The Dauntless protect Chicago by jumping off buildings and running for moving trains. Director Neil Burger apparently likes the trains as much Roth so there are plenty of shots of them. The music by Junkie XL is actually rather good, and is one of the better aspects of the film, but the brief must have been awful - "trains... something... running... crazy". Still, he nailed that one.

Surprisingly, I did genuinely enjoy Divergent for what it is. The politics is as heavy-handed as in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and thus completely ignorable, but the main point of the film is to look at Theo James. (RPatz, move over.) It's marginally better than Need for Speed - a recent release based on a video game which both naturally and disappointingly evokes thoughts of a video game - and it's not as good as Kate Winslet's other recent film, Labor Day. Winslet plays the big bad Ravenclaw here, and she puts in a competent performance, but her role doesn't take up much screen time and she was clearly cast as a big name rather than for any artistic reason.

You just can't take this movie seriously - but with that said, no amount of bad reviews is going to stop this from being a massive box office smash. Divergent doesn't open in the UK until 4th April, but made over $54 million in its opening weekend in America. It's bound to repeat that level of success here, not because the screenplay is intelligent or the acting is powerful, but because Tris and Four's fledging romance will help mend the broken hearts of the Twihards, who have been wandering the streets aimlessly since the last Stephenie Meyer epic was on the big screen. (It's no coincidence that Summit produced that saga too - they're the smartest thing about this.)

In defence of the film, it's not in 3D. Most big action films in recent years have been in thoroughly pointless 3D - I'd go as far as to say Captain America 2 has terrible 3D - and at least Summit and Red Wagon aren't trying to sell us that. What they're trying to push is a bit of eye candy for young girls and some fancy fighting - like Candour, that's at least honest. No smoke and mirrors, Divergent is what it is - if you're in the target audience, you'll love this, if not, you'll probably walk out by the end of the first 60 minutes. If James is not your type, give this a swerve.

Divergent was released in the UK on 4th April 2014.

Nearest tube station: Angel (Northern)



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