Mania Review: Divergent -

Mania Review

Mania Grade: C

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  • Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Ashley Judd, Jai Courtney, Ray Stevenson and Kate WSinslet
  • Written by: Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor
  • Directed by: Neil Burger
  • Studio: Summit Entertainment
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Run Time: 139 minutes
  • Series:

Mania Review: Divergent

Less than diverting.

By Rob Vaux     March 22, 2014

© Summit Entertainment/Robert Trate

 A wise man once said something about counting your chickens before they hatch; once again, Hollywood has ignored that particular bit of wisdom in its never-ending stampede towards a quick buck. With trilogies and quadrilogies and whatever you want to call Marvel’s epic run all the rage these days, every studio wants a few of their own. Sometimes that means ignoring the needs of the first movie in favor of setting up all the others, which usually ensures that “all the others” never make it to screen. Ask The Golden Compass. Ask Green Lantern. And ask Divergent, which demands that we eagerly embrace the delights of deferred payoffs while they get all the messy exposition out of the way.

That said, it still beats Twilight eight ways from Sunday, which is important since it clearly follows that playbook. (The Hunger Games is actually closer in tone, though that saga outclasses Divergent many times over).  Its message of finding your individuality amid extreme pressure to conform is well taken, and it earns brownie points for delivering a heroine with genuine spunk and personality, instead of another vapid cheerleader. She goes by the name of Tris (Shailene Woodley), and in the future Chicago where she lives, society has divided itself into five distinct castes. Everyone gets sorted in their teenage years and lives out their lives fulfilling duties specific to their caste. But when someone doesn’t fit into a neat category, they’re labeled “Divergent” and bad men with guns show up.  

Tris starts out training for the Dauntless caste, charged with policing the city and guarding the walls. (There’s an enemy out there, but we never find out who or what… presumably until one of the sequels comes along.) But it soon becomes clear that she’s not like the rest of them, and with a sinister Hillary Clinton clone (Kate Winslet) on her tail, the time soon comes to-

Wait, scratch that. The time never really comes, save for an interminable action climax that resolves nothing and clarifies less. Beyond that, it’s a whole lot of training scenes. So many, many training scenes, tastefully shorn of drama (or indeed anything that might construe a plot) and repeatedly pounding us on the head with its message lest we forget it. Divergent clearly left its subtlety at the door, but that can’t help it deliver any dialogue or development worth talking about: just interminable struggles with Tris’ uniqueness, her outsider status and the fact that someone may (but never really does) try to kill her for them at any time.

That may sound a bit harsh, but when you’re teetering on the verge of unconsciousness for two hours, it leaves a mark. Divergent does better in the technical categories, which carry a lot of polish and help sell this world as a viable place to host a movie trilogy. The acting works too. Woodley knows her way around the camera, and unlike Twilight, her character faces real alienation and exclusion before finding her purpose in life.  The bar stands pretty low on this front (Katniss Everdeen notwithstanding), so any signs of honest-to-god girl power need to be met with thunderous applause.

And yet for all that, director Neil Burger never gets the drama out of second gear. This material likely played a lot better on the printed page, where we could really get into Tris’s head and follow her turbulent thoughts. Burger has to make do with plaintive glances and a lot of talking that doesn’t add up to anything interesting. With the world fleshed out, it wouldn’t take much to breathe life into this storyline. Apparently, we have to hold on for that, and with the level of competition readily available, holding on feels like testing our patience.

I’ll be interested to hear what fans of the book think of this film. For my part, I found it a pretty appendix rather than stand-alone entertainment, and while future entries in the series are promised, I did not see one compelling reason to care. Yes, you need a strong foundation to make a franchise work, but many of the biggest sagas in cinema managed to do well enough on their first outing to justify the exercise. Divergent has a few things going for it, but the bulk of its interesting material appears to be on back order. And no one has ever enjoyed themselves by being told to sit and wait.


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irockdiesel 3/22/2014 5:58:31 AM

...and the grade??

wolf1026 3/22/2014 8:00:28 AM

hi, I have been a loyal mania visitor for many years despite never leaving a comment tillnow.this is my first. I have loved reading comments by many especially wiseguy, violator and hanso. I felt I needed to write this to defend divergent. I apreciate a review but i wish reviewers of movies based on books had read the books. my daughter read this one for school a few years ago and loved it.her and I have read this trilogy as well as hunger games and twilight and this is our favorite. I haven't seen themovie yet but frompeople who have and read the books I know it follows the book closer then hunger games or twilight did. it was conceived by the author as a trilogy fromthe start so yes it does set a lot up and leaves on a cliff hanger as does the second book but its about so much m more then you relizein the first book. a huge clue in the book is when tris notices that the gates around the city lock from the outside not the inside,as if they are locked in,not locking something else out.

blankczech 3/22/2014 9:43:55 AM

 wolf1026...I surmise what you are saying is that if one muddles through the groundwork laid in this first film they will be rewarded by interesting and exciting things that will happen in subsequent films (sequels).  I find this a little surprising because while I don't read young adult fiction I've heard that many fans who loved the first two books, were disappointed by the third book in the series (Allegiant).

wolf1026 3/22/2014 11:03:02 AM

I enjoyed allegiant. it definetely turned everything on its head and took twists i didn't expect. the second book ends with a huge reveal that they explore in the final book. my problem is when a movie based on an original book series is compared to other movies as being copies of them and derivitive of them. the author wrote these stories on her own, never planning them to definetely be movies and not trying to be like twilight or hunger games.

egoist 3/22/2014 11:12:51 AM

Rob, Couldn't help but notice your review for the Muppets was done on Friday, while this one was pushed back to today. I'm not planning on seeing either one myself, but it seems to me the average maniac would want those reviews the other way around. IMO of course.

Roqueja 3/22/2014 11:19:56 AM

My kid just asked for the books as a birthday present, so I will probably finally get around to reading them over the summer, which if memory serves me correctly is supposed to be warm and without snow.  I have heard that the main reason that the books caught on so well is the easy to get into descriptions and emotions/thoughts that are written.  That is the hardest thing to translate into another medium without taking liberties from the source material.  With the right director, and the correct insight, it can be done.  I'll rent this one, and would consider the theatre for the last two providing the books are as good as I've heard.

RedHood2010 3/23/2014 6:18:39 AM

Unlike Twilight, where I  read the books, I had not, but my wife did. I found the movie entertaining, not knowing anything, but my wife did not enjoy it.  And her reason goes along with the review, so I am interested to see what the fans of the book say.

Dazzler 3/23/2014 9:21:06 AM

139 mins?  Might wait for cable. 

DarthBob 3/24/2014 4:50:35 AM

This movie is 139 minutes of a whole lot of stuff that is uninteresting. I'm sure the books are great, my daughter liked the first and moved on to the second; however, as a movie this is about as boring as they come. The acting is awful, the soundtrack is forgettable and the characters are cardboard. I know that I am not the target age group for this, but you can still make a good movie regardless of the source material; Catching Fire is a good example.  My grade is a D plus.

redvector 3/24/2014 5:50:13 AM

 It's making decent money so it's likely to get a sequel. But what I don't get is that studios will risk money on female lead movies like Divergent, which outside the target audience is a pretty obscure book series. But thier balls shrivel up at the thought of risking money on a female lead superhero move. 

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