Wednesday, 13 August 2014
Neil Burger // 2014 // 139 mins
In a dystopian future all life on earth has seemingly been destroyed with the exception of a small population that now occupy Chicago. In order to maintain peace and productivity the population is divided into five factions, each of which is assigned a single lifestyle based on their characteristics. When the young reach maturity they are put through an aptitude test that recommends the faction that they are best suited to. During her test Beatrice Prior discovers that she is Divergent, a rare trait that means she is compatible with multiple factions and impossible to be controlled by the authority that rules over them. Beatrice chooses to leave her selfless faction of Abnegation and join the courageous ranks of the Dauntless, where she renames herself Tris and trains to prove her worth as a warrior and protector of the people.
The current cinematic landscape is littered with potential franchises based on young adult book series', all looking to capitalise on the popularity of the Harry Potter and Twilight films. Divergent is the most recent entry to this sub-genre of film, yet does little to distinguish itself from it's peers, it heavily borrows concepts and tropes from similar films and appropriates them with little to no intervention. An early problem with Divergent is that the world that we are being presented with is so hard to believe in, we are expected to accept a world in which a person decides what lifestyle they want to live at 16, is never allowed to change from one faction to another, and everybody lives peacefully under this regime. This is a world that discourages individuality so far as to have each faction dress it's people in specific colour schemes, and though this notion is challenged by Tris' divergence even she acknowledges that the system supposedly works, something that seems completely unbelievable.
Slow pacing is also an issue that the film never recovers from. Though obviously part of a larger four-movie narrative, Divergent feels drawn out, offers very little closure to the story and ends rather abruptly. Once Tris enters her new faction in Dauntless she must train to earn her spot in the faction, and what should have been one or two shorter training sequences is stretched to over and hour, where very little happens other than Tris supposedly getting stronger. Once her training is complete the story shifts focus to the intentions of a corrupt faction that wants to seize control, and rushes through their uprising with what little runtime is left. These climactic events are far more interesting and entertaining than most everything that has led up to them, so it's a shame that they are awarded such little development. Deaths carry little weight in this swift final act and actually feel forced in because the writers had to follow the source text.
The only element of the film that feels complete and well executed is one of the trials that Tris has to endure in her training where she has to escape a simulation of her greatest fears. In a film primarily made up of lacklustre cinematography these sequences are strikingly shot and seamlessly edited, briefly displaying an ounce of talent in the production of this project but ultimately becoming overused during the extensive training period. The cast, which consists primarily of up-and-comers, generally fail to inspire with the likes of Zoë Kravitz and Miles Teller being wasted while Theo James cruises along using the lifeless-but-it-doesn't-matter-cos-he's-hot acting technique. Shailene Woodley looks fantastic and is as likeable as ever but suffers from having to carry the film as a rather uninteresting protagonist. Tris meanders through the plot, making it through her various challenges with luck or just plain cheating (with the help of James' love interest Four) and then somehow becomes a fearless, seasoned fighter. Although there was well over and hour of her training to reach this status, I don't recall her ever actually proving herself capable. Kate Winslet does well enough as the clearly villainous Jeanine but her character, like most elements of the film, feels copy and pasted. She is just another entry into the vast number of high-ranking, cold female antagonists of recent cinema, her character has been done before and has been done better.
Divergent has potential but shows no desire to forge it's own identity amongst the slew of similar films being made today. There are occasional glimmers of potential in the production design or crafting of individual sequences but these moments are fleeting, while Woodley and Winslet do their best but are restricted by a thinly developed screenplay. This is a film as content to conform as the inhabitants of it's bizarre world, divergent it is not.