Whether they know it or not, moviegoers are participating in a Choosing Ceremony of sorts this weekend, as director Neil Burger’s “Divergent” enters theaters.
The film, based on the Veronica Roth novel series and starring Shailene Woodley and Theo James, has been hyped by onlookers as the next “Hunger Games.” It’s talked about in the same conversations as “Twilight” and “Harry Potter.” But does “Divergent” meet those heights? While many critics are intrigued by the film and its franchise potential, others have concluded that “Divergent” offers nothing new to the cinematic world of dystopia-driven young adult fiction.
Here’s a look at what critics are saying about “Divergent.”
“Based on Veronica Roth’s bestselling series, ’Divergent’ depicts a future Chicago after a catastrophic global war. Lake Michigan has dried into a vast marsh, an electrified wall encircles the heart of the city to protect it from outside influences, and society is divided into five factions: Amity, Erudite, Candor, Dauntless, and Abnegation. Beatrice ’Tris’ Prior (Shailene Woodley) and her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) are children of Abnegation, the governing faction that rejects vanity, feeds the Factionless, and lives humbly in bare quarters. Society replenishes itself by submitting children of all factions to a test that determines where they are best suited, then allowing them to pick their place for life in a Choosing Ceremony. But Erudite leader Jeannine Matthews (Kate Winslet) insists that everyone should simply know their place, and that those who deviate from a thoughtless routine threaten to undermine the fragile fabric of rebuilding society. Tris discovers during her test that she’s Divergent–special and dangerous to the powers-that-be, because she has more than one dominant personality trait and thus cannot be easily sorted into one of five categories that encompass every duty within society. Uninspired by the drab humility of her parents (Ashley Judd and ’Scandal’s’ Tony Goldwyn), Tris falls in with the Dauntless, the tattooed soldiers who run everywhere, climb everything, and show no fear.” — Kevin McFarland, The A.V. Club
“Woodley, through the delicate power of her acting, does something compelling: She shows you what a prickly, fearful, yet daring personality looks like when it’s nestled deep within the kind of modest, bookish girl who shouldn’t even like gym class. Tris chooses to become part of Dauntless not because she has any special athletic skill but because it’s her nature to go for broke. The first half of ’Divergent’ is a lean, exciting basic-training thriller, with Tris willing herself to do things like jump aboard speeding trains and fight with her bare knuckles. Woodley, at every turn, lets us feel as if we’re in her shoes, not so much Dauntless as thrillingly daunted.” — Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly
The Four Factor
“As Four, meanwhile, James manages the considerable accomplishment of seeming like a real grown-up man rather than a teenage girl’s image of a dreamy boy, and he makes the character’s transformation from hardass to collaborator seem natural, if inevitable.” — Todd Gilchrist, The Playlist
The Bad News
“The tentpole landscape is sorely in need of strong female leads — but not like this. Tris is an underwritten pawn in a work of live-action fan fiction. She fights for free will and individuality in a movie that’s void of either. While Burger can stage a shootout and cut together a training montage, he’s crippled by ’Divergent’s’ lack of perspective. Elaborate rules and constructs are enough to fuel a day of ’Dungeons & Dragons,’ but not a movie. There’s no challenge for ’Divergent’ to be any good, only to replicate the success of far better movies. The film ends with cataclysmic events reshaping the world forever. That would have been a solid beginning.” — Matt Patches, IGN Movies
The Final Word
“I’m curious to see where the series goes from here. Having not read anything beyond the first half of the book, I’m not sure where things are going, but as long as they’ve got Shailene Woodley and Theo James starring together, I’ll give it a chance. Building a successful franchise is enormously dependent on casting, and that’s what this film gets most right. Overall, ’Divergent’ is familiar fare, but served up by a cast that is fiercely dedicated to the material.” — Drew McWeeny, HitFix