It’s simply impossible to watch “Divergent” and not compare it to “The Hunger Games.”
Veronica Roth wrote “Divergent” three years after Suzanne Collins published “The Hunger Games,” and with Summit Entertainment desperate to fill the void left by The Twilight Saga, the similarities are not merely coincidence.
The good news is that we get another female action hero in Shailene Woodley (“The Descendants,” “The Spectacular Now”), but the bad news is she is no Jennifer Lawrence. The futuristic world laid out in “Divergent” isn’t as encompassing as what we saw in “Hunger Games;” the entire first film spends all of its time setting the stage, and the anticlimactic conclusion feels more like an episode or a television pilot than a stand-alone film.
Future world Chicago is surrounded by electric walls to protect the citizens from whatever lies beyond. People are separated into class groups called Factions. Tests administered by the government at the “choosing age” help each person understand which faction they should choose, but the final choice is up to the individual. One faction is the brave (military), honest, peacekeepers, who are selfless and intelligent.
When Tris (Woodley) goes in for her test, something happens that sets in motion a fate no one could predict. With her results inconclusive, she must strategically choose the faction that will help keep this new secret that would get her killed if made public.
The comparison with “Hunger Games” begins with the factions and separation of humans by class to the fearless leading female. Tris has sudden character growth that feels unfounded based on what we see on screen. She comes from the “selfless” faction and very rapidly turns into what her faction calls “first jumper,” the person in the initiators who wants to go first.
Woodley does bring a humanity and humble nature to the role that mirrors Katniss Everdine, but I think that was done intentionally. “Divergent” is quite exciting, and the two and a half-hour thriller moves quickly, but the audience is asked to retain a lot of knowledge about this new world.
It is based on a series for young adults, so themes like young love, bullying and separation from parents are all defining moments for the first part of the trilogy. Oscar winner Kate Winslet as the antagonist was an interesting choice, especially since she was pregnant during the film and is all too obviously only filmed from the waist up in close shots and walks around with a briefcase covering her stomach for the rest of her limited role.
The film’s high points are when Tris is tested with bravery and endurance, which is what these types of films survive on. However, if you are familiar with “The Hunger Games” series, some of the obvious and less exciting elements here will make this feel more like a second-rate copy.
Final thought — Entertaining and adrenaline-filled, but never proves to be as creative or emotional as “The Hunger Games.”
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet, Ashley Judd