News

REVIEW: ‘Divergent’ falls short of ‘Hunger Games’ glory

REVIEW: ‘Divergent’ falls short of ‘Hunger Games’ glory

Shailene Woodley, left, and Theo James in a scene from "Divergent." Photo: Associated Press/Summit Entertainment, Jaap Buitendijk

Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi | Run Time: 139 min | Rated: PG-13
Director: Neil Burger | Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet

By: George Wolf

High school sucks, but like all harrowing experiences and universal truths, it can lead to valid and valued artistic expression – nearly all modern adolescent literature, for instance.

Whether it’s The Hunger Games, Ender’s Game or the more clearly allegorical Divergent, the story is basically the same: a powerful system requires helpless parents to submit their precious children to bloodsport (high school); cliques are mindless and dangerous; the kid with the most power is a manipulative asshole; only the outcast can ultimately thrive. (Hell, even the magnificent Harry Potter series plays off the same riff.)

While it doesn’t make prom seem very appealing, in the hands of professionals, it can make for a compelling tale.

Director Neil Burger does a lot right with this film. Not everything, but a lot. He’s blessed with a straightforward script that won’t confuse the uninitiated. A hundred years after a great war, the world is broken into factions, each of which match individual personality types (and, to a certain degree, high school cliques): the smart kids (Erudite), the nice kids (Abnegation), the pot heads – I mean, happy, peaceful types (Amity), the honest (Candor), and the brave/fun/bully/popular kids (Dauntless). And then there are the dreaded factionless – a fate worse than death, like unpopularity.

People stay with their faction, and all is peaceful. But unique souls who don’t really fit – divergents – threaten the system.

Divergent also boasts two profound talents: Kate Winslet and Shailene Woodley. Winslet commands respect and awe as leader of the Erudites and general evildoer. Woodley plays our hero, the divergent Tris.

Both performers deserve stronger material, to be honest. While the screenplay, adapted from Veronica Roth‘s novel by Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor, offers a fairly smooth streamlining of the story, it too often proves a bit toothless. The strength of the performers helps to compel attention. Woodley’s onscreen chemistry with Theo James as love interest Four gives the film a pulse, and her big-eyed vulnerability makes the sense of loss and longing palpable.

Too bad Berger felt it necessary to include so much exposition. An unfortunate symptom lately of Episodes 1 of a trilogy, Divergent simply takes so long to get to the action that you get bored.

Roth’s source material offers several clever conceits to play with, and both Woodley and Winslet seem game, but Berger can’t quite settle on a tone or a pace. It’s too bad, because comparisons to The Hunger Games are inevitable, and Divergent could easily have become a worthwhile companion to JLaw’s awesome quadrilogy. Instead it’s a fun but forgettable way to waste time before the real blockbusters release this summer.

Verdict 3 Stars

Read more movie reviews at MaddWolf.com.

Latest Stories

in Sports

Only arguing remains in Sterling trail

FILE - In this Nov. 12, 2010, file photo, Shelly Sterling sits with her husband, Donald Sterling, right, during the Los Angeles Clippers' NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons in Los Angeles. With a $2 billion sale of the Clippers hanging in the balance, a judge is set to determine Monday, June 30, 2014, if the terms of a family trust alone are enough to confirm Donald Sterling was properly removed as trustee and allow his estranged wife to sell the team without his consent.

Only final arguments and a ruling remain in the trial to determine whether Donald Sterling's estranged wife can sell the Los Angeles Clippers for $2 billion.

in Sports

Paul McGinley pulls out of PGA Championship with injury

Paul McGinley of Ireland laughs during a news conference after being named the European Ryder Cup captain at the St. REgis in Saadiyat Islands in Abu Dhabi on January 15, 2013.

European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley has pulled out of the PGA Championship with a shoulder injury.

in Local Sports, Sports, UVA Sports

UVA Football Notebook: Catching Up With Coley

VSabre for web~1240x800 copy

UVA's middle linebacker Henry Coley looks forward to the 2014 season.