Review: DIVERGENT (2014) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Review: DIVERGENT (2014)

The cast is the least worthwhile in this lacklustre and generic young-adult dystopian thriller.

Riding on the phenomenally successful adaptations of the first two HUNGER GAMES movies, it's simply a matter of time before Veronica Roth's best-selling novel trilogy (Divergent, Insurgent and Allegiant) is finally riped for big screen adventure. Out of the gate this year is the highly-anticipated first movie in a trilogy, DIVERGENT, which already positioned as the next HUNGER GAMES.


Set in a dystopian Chicago where society is divided into five factions based on five different personalities: Erudite (smart), Candor (honest), Amity (peaceful), Dauntless (brave) and Abnegation (selfless). Those who doesn't fit to any of the five personalities are declared factionless and they are equivalent of homeless peoples.

However, Beatrice "Tris" Prior (Shailene Woodley), who belongs to an Abnegation family with parents Natalie (Ashley Judd) and Andrew (Tony Goldwyn) and brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort), discovers that she is a Divergent after being tested by a tester named Tori (Maggie Q). Apparently Divergent is classified as someone who fit into more than one personality, and could not be discovered by anyone or risk terrible consequences.

When the day has arrived for a new group of teens to choose their own factions, Beatrice picks Dauntless. After the choice has been made, she has to undergo an extensive training period to become a qualified brave warrior within given time period. If fail, she will be kicked out of the faction and becomes homeless. As the training takes place, she slowly becomes friends with one of her drill instructors named Four (Theo James) and eventually falls for each other. Then one day she learns about Erudite, led by Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet), is planning to overthrow Abnegation, the humble faction which currently rules the government.

The cast here is overall solid, with Shailene Woodley being the particular standout. As Tris, she manages to handle her first leading role with her engaging and soulful performance. Equally good is Theo James, who brings an unexpected warmth beneath his cool-looking exterior. In fact, both he and Woodley display believable chemistry together as eventual lovers.

As for the supporting actors, Jai Courtney is perfectly typecast as the no-nonsense Dauntless leader Eric, while Zoe Kravitz is likable as Tris' closest friend, Christina. Maggie Q, who plays compassionate tester Tori, manages to make full use of her limited screen time to give a worthwhile performance. Last but not least is Kate Winslet, in her rare villainous role as the power-hungry Jeanine Matthews. Although her role doesn't flesh out well, she remains plausible enough to pull off her role with her steely-eyed expression.
The engaging knife-throwing scene (which is heavily promoted in the internet) where Tris is daring enough to step in front of the knife boards and tries her best not to flinch when Four starts throwing knives at her.
At 139 minutes, DIVERGENT suffers badly from glacial pacing while the story -- adapted by Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor -- feels bland and noticeably lack of sheer urgency needed for this kind of dystopian-thriller genre. Then there's the drab vision of dystopian Chicago which feels like a cheap-looking, B-grade movie. Overall technical credits here are disappointingly mediocre, while all the action sequences here (from fistfights to extended shootouts during the climactic finale) falls flat on the surface. It doesn't help either when the action is mostly ruined by shaky camerawork.

To top that off, it's a surprise that Neil Burger's previous directing credits, such as the magic-themed period drama THE ILLUSIONIST (2006) and mystery thriller LIMITLESS (2011), who has a knack for showing versatility when tackling different genres, seems to be clueless directing DIVERGENT. I was shocked to see his direction here is terribly pedestrian and dare I say, lifeless as well.

Overall, DIVERGENT is a waste of opportunity and a weak start to a potentially exciting new movie franchise. Hopefully, the subsequent two sequels (INSURGENT and ALLEGIANT) will show some improvements in the future.


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