Divergent deviates from the hero movie motif

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Divergent, the $100 million sci-fi thriller opens this weekend. (Publicity photo)

2 out of 4 stars

First it was Twilight, then The Hunger Games.

Now it’s Divergent, the latest bestseller Summit-Lionsgate is banking on to become the next book franchise-turned-blockbuster.

Director Neil Berger takes the first of Veronica Roth’s three-book series and turns it into a 140- minute primer for the series’ next two books – Insurgent and Allegiant – that will hit the big screen sooner rather than later.

If you haven’t read the book: The story centers on Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley), who like all 16 year olds in the futuristic, war-torn city of Chicago, is required by law to make the biggest decision of her life on Choosing Day.

Chicago is divided into five separated factions based on virtues — Abnegation (selfless), Erudite (intelligent), Dauntless (brave), Candor (honest) and Amity (peaceful).

Tris was born into Abnegation, but that doesn’t matter. The government tests each teen to determine where they’d fit best, but it’s an individual’s choice of which faction they join.

(Click here for a test to see which faction would be your best fit.)

But once a choice it made, it’s final. Could you imagine if, as a parent, your kids choose different factions and you rarely — if ever — see each other again since each faction resides in a different part of the city?

It certainly makes for great cinema, as one faction cheers its newest arrival while another one mourns its loss.

Tris, however, has a problem: The test shows she has Abnegation, Erudite and Dauntless qualities, making her a “Divergent,” who are marked for death because in this town, those who don’t conform to a faction may as well be the devil in the government’s eyes.

But since Tris’ test results are erased, she chooses Dauntless, the city’s police force.

Photo via Wikipedia
Photo via Wikipedia

She seems overmatched in a recruiting class where the weakest are deemed “factionless” and discarded into a group of homeless scavengers, shunned by nearly everyone.

Woodley, who made a name for herself starring opposite George Clooney in 2011’s The Descendents, tries to carry the film, but she’s simply not strong enough to carry so many mediocre characters who aren’t developed. Her character develops a crush on Four (Theo James), who is tasked with molding Dauntless’ newest members into shape, but you’re left wanting to see where the relationship goes. But that’s what sequels are for.

Kate Winslet plays Jeanine Matthews, an Erudite plotting to drug the Dauntless into giving her faction control of the city’s Abnegation-run government. Winslet simply isn’t in enough scenes to make the audience hate her, which is the film’s biggest flaw. It’s hard to fall in love with the hero if you don’t despise the bad guy.

John McClane has Hans Gruber in Die Hard, Rocky has Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, Clarice Starling has Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs and Batman has the Joker, as one doesn’t shine without the other.

Tris has nobody. Berger does a great job transforming her from a weak member of Abnegation to a knife-throwing member of Dauntless, even though she’d still get her butt kicked by The Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen.

Divergent mirrors The Hunger Games in many ways, which is good since both books were massively popular and fans will want to watch the movie versions. But books also have niche audiences, especially ones targeted to young adults, which is Roth’s core audience.

If you loved The Hunger Games, chances are you will like, not love, Divergent. But if you haven’t read the book, you may want to think twice before spending $12 for a ticket, as a matinee may be a better choice.

Either way, at least for the sake of franchise, let’s hope its future is better than its present.