If you only got the chance to hang out with one clique in high school, with any luck you wouldn’t adhere yourself to people you wound up hating for four years just because you were going through a phase. For the young people of “Divergent,” changing your whole identity involves a bit more pressure than just having to wear goth makeup because all your friends do.
If you go
“Divergent,” rated PG-13
Rating: 2 out of 4 stars
Running time: 139 minutes
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Ansel Elgort and Kate Winslet
Now playing at Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas and Craig’s West Theatre.
In the near future, the United States of America is a shadow of its former self, with cities ruined by warfare. In what once was Chicago, the people have rebuilt their lives under a new system that requires everyone to keep to one of five factions determined by their personality traits and how they can best serve society: Amity is made up of peaceful farmers; Candor is the unwaveringly honest, who handle the legal system; those in Erudite are the knowledgeable scientists; Dauntless consists of the bravest members, functioning as a police force; while those within Abnegation devote their lives to assisting the downtrodden and function as the governing body.
Upon reaching adulthood, teenagers are able to choose which of these groups they want to join, whether it’s what they’ve known their whole lives or trying something new and saying goodbye to their families forever. A mental aptitude test is meant to help guide them as they go through this process, but for Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley), everything only has become more confusing.
The 16-year-old girl who has been raised as part of Abnegation has just learned she doesn’t fit in anywhere. Her analysis reveals her to be Divergent, with abilities that would allow her to function in any of the factions, something that is rare and simply not allowed.
Urged to keep the information to herself, even from her parents (Tony Goldwyn, Ashley Judd), Beatrice makes her choice about which faction will be her new life, finding that being a Divergent could either help her or hinder her greatly depending on who finds out about her.
As one of the better actresses of her generation, Woodley always is worth watching, this time as a girl who goes from being raised to embody altruism and humility to suddenly dressing like a SWAT team member as part of the Dauntless crowd. Not unlike fellow young adult heroine Katniss Everdeen, her pretense of self-doubt hides her capability to do great things.
All in good time, though, since in this futuristic world, you’re only viewed as worthwhile among the boldest, provided you have enough courage to do exactly what everyone else is doing, with most of the Dauntless activities involving one long parkour run through the streets, on and off trains and from rooftop to rooftop, the rest of their time dedicated to physical training and getting tattoos.
With a new life comes a new name, and Beatrice goes with the shortened “Tris,” warned she can change it only once — who makes these rules, anyway? — by her Dauntless superior Four (Theo James), who obviously put a lot of thought into his moniker.
Maybe it’s the secret that she hides, but Tris can’t help but see her vehemently selfless parents in a different light now as well as her brother (Ansel Elgort), who’s switched over to the Erudite faction.
Speaking of the brainiacs, Kate Winslet is wasted as one of their muckety-mucks, Jeanine, who shows a profound interest in Tris’ life after she leaves Abnegation.
That can only end well for everyone, right?
The screen version of the first of Veronica Roth’s novels — oh, yes, we’re talking a trilogy — stands out visually, with a handsome wardrobe design, from the drab gray rags worn by those in Abnegation to the smart blue attire in which Erudite drapes itself, as well as an absorbing succession of hallucinatory sequences that show Tris’ fears and talents better than any psychiatrist’s couch ever could.
These moments make sense, but in a story that’s meant to be fast-paced and unpredictable, there’s far too much second-guessing of everything, leading to a plot that’s overextended and oversaturated with the details that surround so many of the elements of young adult lit these days: oppressive authorities, romance with the person you’d least expect and the struggle to find yourself amid people who demand conformity.
The basic idea of “Divergent” is a strong one, but it splinters into too many smaller thoughts, making it much weaker than it could be. With the sequel “Insurgent” already scheduled for a release next spring, hopefully the filmmakers can learn from their experiences to come up with something more complete.
Contact Andy Bockelman at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com or follow him on Twitter @TheBocksOffice.