DIVERGENT (PG-13) August DVD Release
HUNGER GAMES WITHOUT THE GAMES
In an era rabid with sequels, prequels, remakes and copycats it's hard, I mean really hard to find great original content on the big screen. On that note; Divergent makes a valiant effort to be unique, original and engaging, and in some places it almost succeeds.
After seeing it I wrestled for days about whether or not to write a review? It was like...I've seen this before. But then the writer in me won out, and, since I've been on a few movie sets and know a lot of work goes into making a film I will make a valiant attempt at fairness. On the other hand, don't blame me if the story sounds a teeny bit familiar...
100-years ago in a post-apocalyptic Chicago a fearful dictatorial government created a system for preserving the peace by separating the culture into five categories or factions based on personality characteristics: Abnegation (selfless), Dauntless (brave), Erudite (intelligent), Amity (peaceful), Candor (honest). Every year all 16-year olds’ participate in a compulsory aptitude test to determine which faction they are best suited to. The test results usually verify their home faction, but the State magnanimously allows the adolescents a single opportunity to select a different faction than the test reveals. Enter Beatrice (Tris) Prior from the Abnegation Faction who tests inconclusively for Abnegation, Erudite and Dauntless making her, by default, a Divergent. She chooses to leave her home faction by joining Dauntless, thus moving the story-line off the launching pad.
The film is headed up by one of Hollywood's rising young star's Shailene Woodley (The Descendants), who is joined by Englishman, Theo James (Underworld), Ashley Judd, (Olympus Has Fallen) Tony Goldwyn (Scandal), and Kate Winslet. Woodley did a credible job of playing the sharp minded Beatrice (Tris) Prior submerged within the Dauntless Faction for fear of discovery. She rises above the rocky beginnings in her new setting by cleverly outmaneuvering a Watch Dog State ready to “purge” all Divergents among them. She is mentored by instructor Tobias (nicknamed Four), who trains the initiate in how to survive the faction's grueling process of elimination. James brings a smoldering sensuality to the part guaranteeing a high score on the "Hottie Richter Scale" with teenage girls everywhere. Oscar winner, Kate Winslet, took on the villain role and infused the part of Jeanine, (head of the Erudite Faction) with some of the film’s more engaging moments. As Jeanine, she slithers with a snake-in-the-grass like authority beneath a disarmingly warm veneer, as she takes an interest in the faction jumper Tris’ progress.
Based on the 2011 young adult's book of the same name by Veronica Roth, the film cost $85 million to make and earned 274 million worldwide - a financial success by any standard. Part Two (Insurgent) is already in post-production with a 2017 release. Many similarities to Hunger Games can legitimately be made, and it's easy to grasp how the story would appeal to a movie studio ready to ride the HG's coat tails to success. The production values were well crafted and the story line was believable and predictable, but still entertaining. Okay, so I didn't read the book, but I think that leaving two loving parents and defecting from the group you've spent your entire life in might just be a hugely traumatic experience. It would have been nice to see Tris' character fleshed out with some three-dimensional struggles over her defection. Instead, her character leaped (literally) into the 'girly action-hero thing' with hardly a backwards look that screamed cliché at the end of the day, (just saying). It is unfortunate, but this film ended up seeming far too familiar right down to the segue-to-sequel ending.
Hollywood has a habit of releasing similar themed feature films in one year (think 2013's White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen). I totally get the fact that film investors run to capitalize on a popular movie trend all the way to the bank. However, this is also risky business because one version will usually soar and the other one will tank. Admittedly, that is not the case with Divergent, but I couldn't help thinking that I might have enjoyed this film far more on its own merit if I hadn't seen the first two installments of another franchise...you know the one I mean.
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