Reviews for the Easily Distracted:
What's The Most Disturbing Thing About The Post-Apocalypse? That according to recent examples, everyone average looking or worse will have been killed off.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: One and a half Bloods (from A Boy and his Dog) out of five.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Teenager asserts herself in the ruins of the upper Midwest, beats the shit out of Rose from Titanic.
Tagline: "One choice can transform you."
Better Tagline: "Teen Steam: gotta let it out."
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Young Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) is, in the words of Crash Davis, dealing with a lot of shit: unhappy with her probable future as a member of "Abnegation," the gentlest of future Chicago's five Factions, she instead elects to join "Dauntless," the *totally radical* warrior class (changing her name to "Tris" in the process). But not only will she have to prove herself worthy, she's also realized she's one of those rare "Divergents" who don't fit in any one Faction. This is a threat to the "Erudites," led by Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet) who wish to rule in place of Abnegation, apparently because nonconformity is a greater threat in the future than nuclear fallout or access to fresh water.
"Critical" Analysis: I think I've figured out the problem with all these teen-oriented action movies. Take this plotline:
"Exceptional teenager must learn to master new talents and overcome self-doubts to defeat all-powerful enemy."
Tell me, is that referring to: a) The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, b) The Hunger Games, c) Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, d) Divergent, or e) all of the above? If you remember your standardized test days, you know the answer is "e."
You can narrow that down further if you insert the words "dystopian future" in there, but that doesn't mean Divergent isn't treading on some very well-worn ground, or the fact that future Chicago depicted in the film, with its plentiful food, steady supply of electricity, and zip lines, often seems about as post-apocalyptic as Knott's Berry Farm.
Perhaps if there was a compelling backstory here we might care more about these well-scrubbed, handsome survivors (as I watched, I began to suspect the Big Secret was the mass execution of all ugly people). But while a devastating war is mentioned, there's no indication of whom it was fought against or what it was about. And while "it was decided" by somebody that the best way to maintain peace was to divide the population into five Factions, that's not always the case (the Faction-less roam the streets like more attractive homeless of yore). It was also decided all 16-year olds must take a test to see which Faction they'll end up in, except that's also not always the case (the kids are free to ignore the sorting hat, er, test results and pick a Faction on their own).
Beatrice's parents are upset when she chooses warrior faction Dauntless, but really: who wouldn't? They do parkour and get cool tattoos and holler a lot. Compared to that, any of the others suck. I wouldn't have found it hard to believe that the meek and selfless Abnegates and the farming "Amity" faction were dying out as the ranks of Dauntless swelled into the thousands until they all died after overdosing on energy drinks.
Woodley has decent chops (The Descendants, The Spectacular Now), but she spends most of Divergent confused and hesitant. As "Four," Tris' ally and romantic foil, Theo James comports himself better. Hope they get him a Rogaine prescription before shooting the rest of the series, however.
As for Kate Winslet, I hope she did this as a favor to her kids and not as the first in a De Niro style descent into paycheck roles.
We complain a lot about Hollywood reusing old properties and/or running out of ideas, but if the alternative is something as derivative and uninspiring as Divergent, maybe a third Grown Ups is what we really deserve.
Divergent is in theaters today. Perhaps you'd like to ponder the words of the immortal Frank Zappa instead.
Get the Theater and Arts Newsletter
Exclusive discounts and announcements to Houston theater shows and art events