The Divergence of Divergent

In the world of literature, apocalyptic dystopia is no walk in the park for anyone involved; but in the future world of Divergent, it’s particularly harsh on teens. “Divergent” is the latest in a string of young adult books to produce a movie franchise.  At the heart of Veronica Roth’s YA bestseller is a provocative existential dilemma involving adolescence and identity: At the age of 16, everyone must choose which of society’s stringently defined sections they’ll join. That could mean staying on home turf or leaving loyalty to blood far behind, and it’s an irreversible decision. Beatrice veers from her inherent faction and chooses the Dauntless, brave warriors who protect society. Chaos ensues. In an era when kids are constantly pressured to launch a career against their liking, it’s an idea with particular resonance.

For this very reason, I initially picked up the book with hopeful expectations of a mashup between The Hunger Games and Ender’s Game. Like most social science fiction, the story, set in a war-ravaged Chicago in an unspecified future, is propelled by the friction between freethinkers and an authoritarian regime.The factions in “Divergent” equate to districts in “The Hunger Games”—it’s how the society is divided.  A dangerous rarity is being divergent: not fitting a faction. And yes, as per usual, Tris just does not fit the mold—she’s a “divergent,” she “diverges” from the norm, and if two paths ever “diverged,” I bet our protagonist takes the one less traveled.

Although lukewarm reviews threatened to squelch curiosity among those unfamiliar with the trilogy, the must-see factor among loyal book fans ensured a robust opening for Summit, topping the box office with a weekend premiere of $56 million.The quantity of the movie is blatantly triumphant, but the unfortunately the same cannot be said for quality. The movie can basically be summed up as “The Hunger Games 2.0,” a handicapped version. Don’t get me wrong, the story behind the book is not inherently bad and actually satisfactorily entertaining, but some pieces simply do not click on screen in the way an audience needs. In the hands of Burger, Divergent’s director, the story’s elements of decay, symbolism, spectacle, and struggle seldom feel alive.

Firstly, without reading the books, it is impossible to understand the true significance of being divergent. Perhaps confusion is one way to get them back for the second installment. Moreover, book fans will be disappointed to know that the movie fails to be loyal to the book’s plotline, leaving out significant chunks from the movie’s characters and major events. As a result, the storytelling feels choppy. Where Tris undergoes her “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” montage, the audience basically witnesses her going from downright awful to still pretty terrible to suddenly really great.

It’s also an idea that loses much of its potency in the movie adaptation, as Burger struggles to fuse philosophy, awkward romance and brutal action. Most scenes just kinda happen matter-of-factly with no real adrenaline or narrative drive to them. The film meanders for the most part, gets to the last act, and disappointingly feels rushed. It’s almost as if it needed to swiftly wrap things up in an attempt to get a green-light for the inevitable sequel down the pipeline.To top it off, the tone-deaf use of indie-pop and techno tracks at key points in the action leaves for a lackluster soundtrack.

Although the movie takes it’s good old time to get going, and the tension isn’t particularly tense until the last 20 minutes of the film, the cast saves the movie from being a total flop. Woodley, whose vulnerable veneer and expressive eyes hold your attention despite a middling script, makes up for some of the flick’s storytelling deficiencies. (Burger’s unfortunate preference for mascara close-ups, however, detracts from the character’s grit.) Some of the film’s funniest lines are uttered by Peter (Miles Teller), Woodley’s fantastic co-star from The Spectacular Now. He’s one of several antagonists Tris encounters throughout the film, including Four (Theo James), the hunky Dauntless leader, who quickly goes from antagonist to Tris’ love interest. Attractive chemistry between these two makes their storyline a little more appealing.

Essentially, Divergent is a mildly entertaining, generally blase movie that only succeeds thanks to its star cast.  Duly noted, there are some nifty moments amid the humdrum. The psychological tests that each new Dauntless member must undergo provide some stunning visuals. Nevertheless the flick in itself is all much ado about nothing, especially when the ending—after the obligatory gunshots and chase scenes —doesn’t really set up a sequel. The movie peters out, as if they eventually got tired of squeezing 487 pages into two and a half hours. If the “Divergent” team gets a new director and a new writer, as did “The Hunger Games” for its sequel, then “Insurgent,” fast-tracked for early-2015 release, will hopefully stand a much better chance.