When will people learn that trying to please everyone pleases no one? Those walking in cold to “Divergent” will feel bored by the generic plot and lackluster characters. If you're a fan, it'll feel like a slap in the face to the source material.
There's a reason the “Divergent” series was hyped up as the heir to the “Hunger Games” franchise. While the author's biases (mostly in the form of anti-intellectualism) hold the series back, talent can help compensate for a writer's failings or at least help you tolerate them. And Tris (Shailene Woodley) can certainly be compared to Katniss Everdeen. She is another complex heroine, capable of cruelty and callousness as well as bravery and heroism. And she certainly doesn't see her love interest as her perfect knight in shining armor. But “Divergent” is merely the cowering reflection of what “Hunger Games” could have been had its filmmakers been just as timid.
My impressions of the movie stem from only having read the first book in the trilogy, and they have only helped to deepen what would've been a very unfavorable impression going in blind. There is great irony, even humor, in this latest failure to deliver due to the fact that the movie seems to share the same fear as the futuristic dystopian society it aims to be pillorying: an almost paralyzing terror of Tris herself.
Like many other YA adaptations, “Divergent” takes place in a dystopian (has hope been officially declared dead?) society where it's members choose which faction they will belong to for the rest of their lives at age sixteen: Erudite, who value knowledge and make up the media, Amity, who value peace and are the counselors and farmers, Dauntless, who value bravery and comprise the military. Tris's faction, Abnegation, values selflessness and service and control the government.
Then there are the factionless, who for whatever reason, have no faction. They seem homeless and/or equipped with the bare minimum (sometimes not even that) and have the least desirable jobs, such as janitorial work. When Tris chooses Dauntless, she soon has to compete with other recruits to earn a place there-or risk joining them.
The danger increases when Tris discovers that she's Divergent, meaning that her mind can't be confined to one way of thinking, which jeopardizes the control that her society's leaders so desperately desire.
She naturally starts at the bottom of the ranks and just as predictably rises. This is where the movie first starts to stumble. Tris is competing with others, some enemies, some friends, for entry into Dauntless, and failure has dire consequences. Competition like this inevitably brings out the worst in people, or at least a bit of their darker sides.
But you'd hardly know it here. Tris and her friends are always nice to each other, and they never do anything wrong. Or if they do, they do it because they have no choice. Naturally, her enemies have no redeeming qualities, and when they have her in their sights, they aren't allowed to do lasting damage. Really, the training and all that occurs in general is so sanitized you almost wonder why anyone is struggling at all.
No one watching “Divergent” can be foolish enough to think Tris won't survive the first movie at least, but all the timidity means it that the suspense, and therefore any excitement, is completely exorcised. It actually makes a moviegoer yearn for a little projectile vomiting to liven things up. Where's the little possessed Regan when you need her?
This removes all the edge from Tris, thus making her (and everybody else) a lot less interesting. Hell, “Divergent” even goes out of the way to show that Tris doesn't want to have sex with her obligatory love interest just yet.
Shailene Woodley has done excellent work in the past in films such as “The Descendants” and “The Spectacular Now,” and this this should have been her coming-out party, where she was introduced to the mainstream in all her talent and glory, (again, think Jennifer Lawrence in “Hunger Games”) complete with a meaty, juicy role to sink her teeth into. Instead, it bears more resemblance to processed tofu.
What with this mess and her role as Mary Jane Watson being edited out of “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” here's hoping Woodley gets a role worthy of the talent she seems to possess and hasn't been fully revealed yet. Maybe the upcoming adaptation of “The Fault In Our Stars?”