I made one of my usual futile attempts to read (I'm REALLY slow at slogging through fiction for some reason) this discount Hunger Games knock-off back in mid-2013 ahead of the film's release, but got bored of the simpy protagonist's hot cheeks (if you've read this thing, you know what I mean) and set it aside about 2/3rds read. Then the movie came and went and I figured I'd catch it on video, but after watching the Honest Movie Trailer and Cinema Sins beatings (posted below), I was even less enthused. However, it was the only thing my girlfriend wasn't adamantly opposed to this evening, so it was time for Discount Hunger Games, er, Divergent.
In a world (heh) called Chicago after an unexplained war which has left the city a ruined dystopia where society has been carved into five distinct factions/cliques: the Farmers (aka Amity), the snooty Brainiacs (Erudite), the Honest (Candor), the Amish Martyrs (Abnegation), and the Cool Kids Who Have All The Fun (Dauntless). Our heroine Tris (Shailene Woodley, whose big neck makes her head look too small) takes the test to determine which club she should join and is informed by the worried test giver/tattoo artist Maggie Q that she appears suited for three cliques and that makes her....wait for it...weird. Just kidding. She's DIVERGENT!!!! and she'd better keep it to herself or bad things will happen. (If you're thinking she'll start lipping off and attracting attention to her defiance, give yourself a nonfat soy mocha latte!)
She chooses the Kool Kidz (Dauntless) and heads off to their Honeycomb Hideout to discover it's not all parkour and cool leather clothes, but brutal (and occasionally deadly) training to avoid being cut and ending up on the streets. Of course there's a cute trainer who digs Tris' fat neck and blah-blah-woof-woof fight the power, yawn. People die, society is cast into turmoil and we're not supposed to wonder why the El train runs into the Cursed Earth where the sequels lie. Just shut up and marvel at the love, kids!
Since Divergent is a direct ripoff to The Hunger Games series, it's not unfair to judge it against that juggernaut. Hmmmm, it fails across the board starting with the premise that the solution to war is to cram people into rigid behavioral castes and then stomp out any free thinkers. The Districts of The Hunger Games were geographic. (Both of the spoof videos also riff on the Sorting Hat from Harry Potter and the One with the Sorting Hat.) From then it follows a rote, checklist path of bringing the book to life for the illiterate or those lacking imagination.
Director Neil Burger helmed my favorite movie of 2011, Limitless, and previously did The Illusionist which was pretty good, but without an imaginative script, there's little for him to do here. The best aspect of Divergent is the seamless VFX to create the post-Apocalyptic Chicago, which presumably wasn't rebuilt after the Decepticons attacked in Transformers: Dark of the Moon.
The performances are functional, but unremarkable. When the usually meat-headed Jai Courtney doesn't suck, that sets the level. Kate Winslet is playing the Donald Sutherland part, but doesn't really spark to the trashy slumming she's doing; she doesn't twirl her mustache enough. And as for Woodley, she ain't no J.Law in any dimension. I hear she's popular with the tween girls for her TV show, The Secret Life of the American Teenager, but I don't see anything that leads me to believe she'll transcend her roots as Claire Danes did going from a dewy ingenue in My So-Called Life to the unraveling CIA agent in Homeland.
Score: 3/10. Skip it and watch Catching Fire again.