Divergent should easily buck the trend of late of young adult books faltering in their effort to become big screen franchises. Veronica Roth’s blockbuster series has several things going for it in its cinematic incarnation -- director Neil Burger and stars Shailene Woodley, Theo James and Kate Winslet.
The story of Divergent follows a world in the future where 100 years prior there was a society-destroying war. Our world, as far as the Divergent tale goes, takes place in a walled-off Chicago where survivors have been broken into five virtue-based factions. They are Amity (the peaceful), Abnegation (the selfless), Erudite (the intelligent), Candor (the honest) and Dauntless (the brave). Each serves their role in society and that system has worked for a century.
On one’s eighteenth birthday, you take a test and that will determine where you belong. If the test comes back inconclusive… you are a Divergent and that is a threat to society. Most likely, you will wander the world homeless, aimless or worse -- be killed.
We meet Tris (Woodley) and her family is Abnegation. She goes in and is administered her test by Tori (Maggie Q). When it comes back that she is Divergent, Tori implores her to leave, and when the calling ceremony takes place, simply choose one faction that she wants. After a lifetime of looking up to the protectors of society, Dauntless, she chooses them.
Divergent follows much of her training, as they are the military and police of society and like their name, must be fearless.
There is something special about Tris, and in the hands of Woodley, she shines and is one seriously compelling and potentially enigmatic heroine. If one has a hard time believing that a society can exist where there are only five places one can belong… it is easily forgotten once you join Woodley as Tris on her journey.
The actress first caught our attention holding her own with George Clooney in The Descendants and then made a major announcement of her talent opposite fellow Divergent star Miles Teller in The Spectacular Now. She is in almost every scene in Divergent and the film largely works because of her talents.
Theo James plays Four, and he’s a leader and trainer of Dauntless. The UK actor delivers in his role with a quiet power that fits the character described on Roth’s pages. Fans of the series (and there are millions) should be thrilled with his casting. And yes, he’s a love interest of Tris. He and Woodley have great chemistry that should prove even more powerful in subsequent Divergent chapters.
Then, there is the powerhouse that is Winslet. She is Jeanine, the leader of the society… who is truly up to no good. It’s so refreshing to see the Oscar winner portray a villain. But, her villainy only works as long as the protagonist to her antagonist intertwines electrically with her and against her. Winslet and Woodley have that in droves.
Lastly, our Divergent review has to credit director Burger. After helming Limitless and The Illusionist, he is keenly adept at handling subject matter that is both commentary on society and thrill ride. With Divergent, he is supremely comfortable in this world.
We hope as the two follow-up chapters have been green lit, that everyone involved stays with the series. They are a classic embodiment that something is only as great as the sum of its parts. Kind of like the five factions working together? Something like that.