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This photo released by Summit Entertainment, LLC shows Zoe Kravitz (left), as Christina and Shailene Woodley as Beatrice ‘Tris’ Prior, in the film, ‘Divergent.’
‘Divergent’ doesn’t stir imagination A little ‘Hunger Games’, a little ‘Harry Potter’

The history of pop culture is the history of people appropriating previous ideas to new effect. “West Side Story” didn’t just usurp “Romeo and Juliet,” “Romeo and Juliet” borrowed heavily from “Pyramus and Thisbe.” There’s nothing new under the sun, granted. But there’s a responsibility to inject some life into the stolen goods — djavu is one thing, but djavu with boredom on top is more than an audience should be asked to tolerate. “Divergent” would be forgivable in its flagrant borrowing of ideas, tropes and characters from some of the most popular young-adult fiction of the last 20 years or so if it spun those ideas around, flipped them and gave them a sassy new paint job. As it is, the film (based on the novel by Veronica Roth) jolts around in fits and starts, never sufficiently explains its premise and, yes, rips off far too many notions from better books and movies to stride successfully down its own path.

It’s after the apocalypse, and society is desperately attempting to rebuild itself. Inside a fence that’s been erected around the ruins of Chicago, humanity has divided itself into five factions: Erudite (the intelligentsia), Amity (ostensibly the kind, but apparently the agrarian), Candor (the honest), Dauntless (the brave) and Abnegation (the charitable). Everyone is tested for their dominant trait and placed in one of the factions, which become that person’s new family. (“Factions before blood” is this group’s catchy expression.) If you fit into more than one of them, that’s considered disruptive, and you’re branded a “Divergent.” And since this is a YA adaptation, you can bet that our heroine is The Specialest Girl in the World: Beatrice (Shailene Woodley) assumes she’ll follow in her parents’ Abnegation footsteps, but she envies the way that the Dauntless security forces whoop it up.

Beatrice’s test administrator (Maggie Q) keeps it secret that the girl’s examination shows her to be eligible for several factions, but on the day of the big Choosing Ceremony, Beatrice opts for Dauntless. Getting to stay in the group involves a great deal of physical challenges — because to be “faction-less” in this world is the worst fate imaginable — and she, now going by “Tris,” must push herself to the limit under the guidance of pouty-lipped trainer Four (Theo James), who of course falls madly in love with her.
 

Planning
Meanwhile, the Erudite, under the leadership of devil-in-a-blue-power-suit Jeanine (Kate Winslet), are planning to remove Abnegation from their role as government leaders with a coup that involves nefarious exploitation of Dauntless’ muscle. As subplots go, none of this manages to be very interesting, but it does allow Winslet to smolder and glare and flare her nostrils in a fashion that would get a thumbs-up from Faye Dunaway. One big problem with “Divergent” is that its basic five-faction premise doesn’t really seem to hold up. If everyone in this world is either a smartypants, a farmer, a lawyer, a cop or a social worker, who built the car that carries Jeanine around? Who takes out the trash? Who makes the color-coded uniforms everyone wears?

There are also issues that have nothing to do with the source material. Director Neil Burger (“Limitless”), working from an adaptation by Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor, spends a lot of time on Tris’ Dauntless training, but surrounds her with a bunch of indistinguishable brunettes. Of the small circle of people we meet in her giant freshman class, there are two girls (one black, played by Zo Kravitz, and one white and broad-shouldered) and somewhere between three and five look-alike guys; only the one who’s played by Miles Teller, Woodley’s “The Spectacular Now” co-star, stands apart.
 

That film, incidentally, demonstrated that Woodley is a gifted and empathetic young actress, but with this material, she comes off as fairly generic. You can sense her efforts at imbuing the goings-on (and the by-the-numbers romance with the handsome but stiff James) with some passion, but she’s swallowed up by the gray sets and the cobbled-together storyline that forces her to dredge up highlights from “The Hunger Games” and “Harry Potter.” When Shakespeare rejiggered “Pyramus and Thisbe,” it was 80 or so years after its first translation into English. It’s a classier move than stealing from characters whose ink is barely dry on the page.
 

Those are heavy expectations, and based on initial reviews, the adaptation of Veronica Roth’s bestselling young adult novel labors under the weight.
Many critics have yet to chime in on the film, so the consensus could shift, but initial reviews for the picture are unkind, with many arguing that the film suffers in comparison to other futuristic fables. Currently, the film holds a 17 percent “rotten” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
 

Preamble
It’s all preamble, Variety’s Andrew Barker carped. The film exists as a launching pad for future sequels, instead of as a standalone movie. “...Divergent’s’ uncertain sense of setting, bloated plot, drab visual style and solid yet underwhelming lead turns from Shailene Woodley and Theo James don’t necessarily make the best case for series newcomers,” Barker wrote. “Fans of the books will turn out for what should be a very profitable opening weekend, but with future installments already on the release calendar, the film’s B.O. tea leaves will surely be read with care.”

Forbes’ Scott Mendelson was more charitable, praising Woodley’s “terrific” lead performance and the film’s creation of a genuinely compelling heroine. Yet, he too faulted the picture for being exposition-laden. It’s all foreplay, he seemed to gripe. “Considering there are only three books in the series, spending nearly a full film on what amounts to an origin story is a little frustrating. In that sense, it’s less ‘Batman Begins’ and more Ridley Scott’s ‘Robin Hood,’” Mendelson wrote.
 

It’s all a bit dull, lamented Screen International’s Tim Grierson in a tepid assessment of the picture’s demerits.
“It’s not that ‘Divergent’ doesn’t have any provocative ideas,” he wrote. “Though somewhat generically executed, the film bemoans society’s encouragement of conformity and even works in a commentary about the evils of genocide. But because its thematic content mostly feels second-hand, ‘Divergent’ doesn’t stir the imagination.”
Though many critics bemoaned the film’s similarity to “The Hunger Games” and “Ender’s Game,” others praised its performances and adherence to its source material.
The Huffington Post’s Lisa Parkin said fans of the novel will love what Burger and company pulled off, while praising the casting of Woodley and James. “I think book fans and dystopia lovers alike will be thrilled with this adaptation,” she wrote. “The ‘Divergent’ movie truly captures the spirit, adventure and excitement of the book, and I cannot wait to see again once it’s out.”
Todd Gilchrist was less caffeinated in his IndieWire review of the film, knocking it for being overly long. But he did credit it with being the second-best adaptation of a young adult favorite after “The Hunger Games.”
 

“Using Veronica Roth’s dystopian future as the foundation for a story of self-actualization, Burger succeeds in aping the cool proficiency of its obvious cinematic predecessor, ‘The Hunger Games,’ unfortunately without elevating Roth’s concept to more than an effective if slightly overwrought academic exercise,” Gilchrist wrote. (RTRS)
Young teens and women are likely to turn out in major numbers for “Divergent,” which distributor Lionsgate hopes will launch a film series on par with its “Twilight” and “Hunger Games” franchises.
With the exception of “The Lego Movie” and “Mr. Peabody & Sherman,” the top films at 2014’s box office have appealed primarily to young men. Action films, like “300: Rise of an Empire” and Liam Neeson’s “Non-Stop,” have raked in significant cash — as did “Ride Along” and “Lone Survivor” back in January - which isn’t a bad thing. The overall box office is up nearly 9 percent from last year, but balance is better.
“Divergent” has been tracking strongly and could match the $70 million debut of the first “Twilight”movie. Lionsgate knew it had another winner some time ago, and has already made plans for two sequels.
Box office fatigue seems to have set in among young males. The animated family film “Mr. Peabody” pulled off a second-week, $21-million win over the male-skewing, muscle car movie “Need for Speed” — as well as “300” and “Non-Stop.”

And while young males aren’t the primary demographic target, they will have a lot to do with just how successful “Divergent” and its sequels prove to be. The two “Hunger Games” movies have appealed to males more than the “Twilight” movies, and their box office results have reflected that. “Twilight” and “New Moon” brought in $805 million worldwide, “The Hunger Games” and “Catching Fire” have done $1.1 billion. Hollywood’s studios have been chasing the Holy Grail of a hit young adult franchise for years — with little success. “Beautiful Creatures,” “The Host,” “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” and most recently “Vampire Academy” all tried and failed within the past year. But that streak will end with “Divergent.” (RTRS)
 

By Alonso Duralde


By: Alonso Duralde

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