x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Cinema review: Divergent

Even if Divergent is terrible, it has a guaranteed young-adult audience. The good news? It's enjoyable, even if it seems to serve solely to set up the action for the sequels.

 Shailene Woodley in Divergent. Jaap Buitendijk / Summit Entertainment / AP Photo
Shailene Woodley in Divergent. Jaap Buitendijk / Summit Entertainment / AP Photo

Divergent

Director: Neil Burger

Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet

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Post-Hunger Games, to which Divergent will inevitably be compared, the logic of cashing in on the young adult fiction market is faultless. There’s a guaranteed audience (Veronica Roth’s novel has sold more than 5 million copies) and the sequels are already set up – the second book in Roth’s trilogy is scheduled for a 2015 cinema release. Even if the film is terrible that’s millions of tickets, plus family and friends. If it avoids being terrible it can pull newcomers in and the accountants are very happy.

I’m pleased to report that it isn’t terrible. In a nutshell, in post-apocalyptic Chicago, society is divided into five factions: Abnegation, selfless souls who run the government; Amity, peaceful farmers; Dauntless, the brave types who act as police and soldiers; Erudite, the knowledgeable; and Candour, honest and without a clear purpose. At 16 each citizen is tested to determine which faction they fit into, though they are free to choose another. But the choice is final and if they fail to make the grade in their new faction they are kicked out of society to join The Factionless, a shuffling bunch of ragged extras straight from a Dickens musical.

Then there are the Divergents – those who fit into multiple categories, pose a threat to social order and thus must be eliminated, at least according to Kate Winslet’s Cruella Deville-esque Erudite leader. Our heroes Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) are, of course, Divergent, and inevitably uncover a plot by Winslett’s Jeanine to take control of the Dauntless’ minds and wrestle power from the humble Abnegates.

The biggest flaw here is how these factions have tolerated each other for the 100-plus years since “the war”. The Dauntless are an endless frat party – they get tattoos, they slap thighs and their insistence on travelling everywhere by jumping on and off moving trains has only the one possible benefit of keeping their infuriating population down. The Erudite are pompous snobs (no surprise to find an English actor in charge there then). Amity are a bit part that universally resemble a Woodstock reunion, and it’s unclear how anyone as servile as the Abnegates would ever get near government in a million years, never mind stay there for 100. Candour? No idea.

The film also seems to serve solely to set up the action for the sequels, so nothing really happens. Divergent Tris chooses Dauntless, and we get two hours of her in boot camp and a will they/won’t they romance with trainer Four before a token 20 minutes of plot when the conspiracy is unearthed.

Almost two and a half hours seemed a long time for a glorified origins movie. It might be great for those who already know what happens next, but I wanted something to happen in this film.

Then again, if you’re the target audience you do already know what’s going to happen, and you’d go even if I said this was the worst film ever. Which it isn’t, so enjoy it.

cnewbould@thenational.ae