If anything should give studios pause for thought in their headlong rush to acquire and produce whatever superhero or comic book titles are available, it’s the troubled and distinctly patchy success rate of ‘young adult’ fiction adaptations.
The film of Veronica Roth’s novel “Divergent” is, like “The Maze Runner”, one of the recent few to have actually succeeded in delivering sufficient profit to produce a sequel. “The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones” and “Beautiful Creatures” were not so fortunate, and it’s hard to see why this limp and nonsensical dystopian adventure was spared their fate.
In a post-apocalyptic future, a dystopian society is divided into castes, in a walled city, where each caste is responsible for a particular aspect of society. There are a small minority who are casteless and left to fend for themselves. Beatrice (Shailene Woodley) is due to be tested to find out where her future lies – only to discover that she has a rare and dangerous affinity for any and all of the factions. Choosing a faction, Tris starts to uncover a dangerous conspiracy and has to strive to prevent one faction from coming to dominate them all.
There’s very little original in the world-building of “Divergent”, indeed the factions and their naming conventions seem to have more to do with flicking through the thesaurus to see what words haven’t been trademarked yet than for any linguistic or narrative value. Although the factions are named Abnegation (the selfless), Amity (the peaceful), Candour (the honest), Dauntless (the brave), and Erudite (the intelligent), their behaviours seem to have little connection to their supposed natures. Dauntless, especially, seem less brave and more like reckless, irresponsible adrenaline junkies. The whole foundation of the society is so nonsensical as to critically undermine any suspension of disbelief and, unfortunately, for a so-called action movie, not enough happens to keep you distracted from the plot holes and contrivances needed to keep the story moving. Unfortunately, archly allegorical storytelling which works on the page often doesn’t translate so well to the screen.
The cast is adequate but bland, Theo James plays the square-jawed hero well and Woodley essaying her very best ‘Katniss-lite’ as the dull and uninspiring heroine. Jai Courtney, with his usual subtlety, scowls and pouts his way around a set which looks like a half-assembled Lego model of Zion’s dance cave from “The Matrix” while Kate Winslet provides the most fun as you try to spot all the camera tricks they used to disguise the fact she was pregnant during the filming.
Director Neil Burger brings it all together on screen in decent fashion, but it’s too similar to a half a dozen other films for it to feel anything but tired and drab. It may be that “Divergent” suffered from ‘Pilot Episode syndrome’ and the unfolding of the story in following instalments will have more substance, action and cohesiveness to them, but after this drab an opener they’ve got a lot to do.