Movie Review: Divergent (2014)
So why doesn’t it work? Besides being monumentally stupid, I mean.
“The Hunger Games” (girl, dystopia, contests, remaining empathetic in an environment that fosters ruthlessness) opened in March 2012 and grossed more than $152 million in its first three days on its way to a $400 million domestic box office. Its 2013 sequel did even better: $424 million and the No. 1 movie of the year. This thing? Created on the heels of that? Another sweet/tough girl in a ruthless dystopia? It opened to $54 million and died. Its total domestic gross, $150.9 million, doesn’t even match the first three days of the other. Why? Besides this one being monumentally stupid, I mean.
Is it the lead? Shailene Woodley, bless her heart, is a helluva actress, and her face can crumple in pain like no one’s business, but she seems a little less sturdy than Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss. You buy J Law kicking ass and taking names. Shailene’s Beatrice, shortened to Tris, is all wide eyes and vulnerability. She can’t even punch a bag with any force. She’s no leader of an underground movement that will upset the balance of things.
Is it the balance of things? In the beginning, we’re told there was a terrible war, and that the rest of the world was destroyed, but fortified cities like Chicago remain; and that the remnants of humanity were “divided into five groups, factions, to keep the peace.” Right. Because nothing keeps the peace like dividing humanity into separate groups.
Is it the groups? This is how humanity is divided:
- Erudite: “They know everything”
- Amity: Kind farmers
- Candor: The honest
- Dauntless: The brave and reckless
- Abnegation: Selfless
And who rules this dystopia? Abnegation, of course. You imagine the scene. “All of you dressed in gray? Who don’t care about yourselves? You’re in charge.” Not the thinkers, not the doers, and not the honest, who, here, are kind of like assholes. They’re like lawyers, aren’t they? Their symbol is the scales of justice. No matter. Abnegation rules. Because that’s how you keep the peace: divide the world into five groups and put the weakest people in charge.
Jumping off trains
So Beatrice starts out as Abnegation, like mom and pops (Ashley Judd and Tony Goldwyn), but she’s ... confused. She feels like there’s more to life than being just one thing. Sometimes she doesn’t know where she belongs. So it’s like high school. Or high school.
How do you wind up in a faction? At a certain age (18?), you take a test, which indicates which faction you belong to. But even after that, you still choose your faction at a blood-dripping ceremony. I never got this. What’s the point of the test if you still have to choose? And how many people choose something other than their test? And what does that indicate? And are they tracked by the authorities? Or is that not Abnegation’s way?
Moot point for Tris. When she wakes up from her test her test-taker (Maggie Q) is freaked. She tells her, “Your results were Abnegation ... and Erudite ... and Dauntless.” This is “extremely rare.” It’s called “divergent.” Don’t tell anyone.
So why did you just tell her?
What happens to divergents? They’re killed. To keep the peace. Because who needs someone who can unite factions?
Anyway, Beatrice now has to choose without a proper test, and for some reason—because she’d always admired them?—she drips blood onto Dauntless. And off she goes with Dauntless, who spend their days jumping off and on of el trains. Because Dauntless.
In her training, Beatrice reveals herself to be brave and smart (and selfless and honest), but she’s not that strong. There are contests, and she keeps losing, and is in danger of being drummed out of Dauntless and winding up with the wretched refuse that is the factionless. All of this takes place in Dauntless’ domain, which resembles a prison mixed with an archeological dig. She makes a few friends (Zoë Kravitz, formerly Candor), and a few enemies (Miles Teller, also formerly Candor). The trainers are Eric (Jai Courtney), a total asshole, and Four (Theo James), a kind of asshole but with nicer lips, so he becomes The Love Interest. He takes a subtle/not-so subtle shine to Tris. He’s also—third-act reveal—divergent himself.
Decking Kate Winslet
So what’s the story beyond the training? There’s an attempted coup, of course. Because some idiot put the weakest people in charge. I think that might’ve been author Veronica Roth. Who’s like 6 years old, according to Wikipedia.
After the training and the graduation, Tris and Four, together with mom and pops, work to prevent a coup by the sneakier elements of Erudite (Kate Winslet, working below her pay grade), and Dauntless (Meki Phifer, working at about his). Tris gets to punch Kate Winslet, and the rag-tag elements that prevent the coup take the el out of town and look into a sequel-filled future. That’s the studio’s plan anyway: this one, its sequel, and the final book cut into two movies to double the box office. What studios now call “The usual.” Moviegoers might have other ideas.
Pull back a moment. What does this story remind you of? This story: a few well-trained soldiers protecting the weak from evil, power-hungry thinkers? What is that?
It’s almost every movie ever made.
If Tris, or director Neil Burger, had only chosen Candor.