MRR Review: "Divergent"

Photo Credit: Summit Entertainment

Rating: PG-13
Length: 139 minutes
Release Date: March 21, 2014
Directed by: Neil Burger
Genre: Action / Adventure/ Sci-Fi

Based on the initial novel in a trilogy of the same name, "Divergent" is a dystopian tale set in Chicago of the distant future. The world of the future is divided into five distinct factions, which are based on virtues. The factions include Abnegation for the selfless and Amity for the peaceful. Candor is the faction for the honest, and Dauntless is reserved for the brave. Finally, the knowledgeable are placed in the Erudite faction.

In a vein like the highly popular "Hunger Games" young adult novel and movie franchise, when a child reaches the age of 16, he or she must submit to an aptitude test that identifies the faction that he or she suits best. Following the test, on Choosing Day, a young person is able to select to live within the faction into which he or she was born or move into the faction for which an aptitude was demonstrated in the testing. What a moviegoer quickly learns is that, upon taking the test, not all young people are readily classified into one or another of the five factions. Rather, some of the youthful testers end up being classified as Divergent.

"Divergent" focuses on Beatrice, portrayed by big screen newcomer Shailene Woodley. Turning 16, Beatrice submits to the aptitude test, receiving results that indicate that she does not fit into any one faction. In fact, she scored equally in three of the faction areas: Abnegation, Erudite, and Dauntless. As a Divergent, she is told by the powers-that-be that she must not share this information with anyone upon possible pain of death. She is directed to be prepared to select a faction on Choosing Day.

On the way home from the test, Beatrice encounters a factionless man, a wanderer who is part of an aimless tribe that belongs nowhere in society. This encounter frightens her and leaves her determined to maintain a normal life. When Choosing Day arrives, Beatrice elects to leave Abnegation, which is her birth faction, and join the Dauntless. With this decision, Beatrice renames herself Tris, leaves her family and travels to the Dauntless compound where she commences her transfer initiation.

Woodley is commanding and believable in her performance in the role of Beatrice-turned-Tris. As is the case with "Hunger Games," the female lead is the targeted focus of the film. Woodly as Tris is both strong-willed and highly empathetic as she works her way through the challenges that she faces throughout the film, the performance is one that places Woodley on the public's radar. She is already cast for return performances as Tris in the remaining two films of the trilogy.

Based on the novel by Veronica Roth, the screenplay is the handiwork of Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor. The screenplay remains generally true to the plot and theme set forth in the original work. Referencing the plot as complicated is an understatement.

During her period of initiation into Dauntless faction, Tris and the other newcomers are injected with what is called a tracking serum. In fact, Tris and at least some of her cohorts come to realize that the serum is designed to control them. The Erudite faction maintains a scheme to use these members of the Dauntless faction to invade and mercilessly sack the Abnegation faction, which is where her family resides. Throughout the tale, plot twists, subplots and romance abound, combined with exciting special effects and a considerable amount of action and adventure.

The remainder of the cast presents an interesting and entertaining ensemble, which is reminiscent of the character crew displayed in "Hunger Games." British actor Theo James turns in a strong performance as Four, Tris' love interest in the film.

In fact, the serum does not work on either Tris or Four because they are Divergents. The couple embark on their own mission to prevent the destruction of the Abnegation faction. Tris ends up in the hands of the Erudite leader, who sentences the young woman to death by drowning in a sealed glass chamber. In the end, Tris' own mother, who also turns out to be Divergent, rescues her from the death chamber.

Neil Burger, the movie's director, does a sterling job in bringing this complicated tale to the big screen in an easily understandable and well-crafted way. The audience is readily transported to the dystopian world that he elegantly creates on the silver screen.

"Divergent" is presented on both traditional screens as well as in IMAX. The movie ends in a manner that clearly leads it into the plot of the next book in the trilogy as well as the next film on the block, which is set for release in 2015.

Rating: 4 out of 5