Divergent is yet another film franchise based on a young-adult novel series, this time by author Veronica Roth.
It does a lot right, with slick visuals, an interesting premise and top cast delivering moments when this fantasy thriller is just that, thrilling, although it's hard to shake the impression this is a second-rate Hunger Games.
Sixteen-year-old Tris becomes a heroine 100 years after a war has decimated the world. A bombed, muted, crumbling Chicago is home to survivors protected from the outside world by a wall, and from themselves by a society divided into factions.
The factions are based on human virtues, the idea being that there will be order if natural instincts are appropriately channelled. For example, the Amity faction is filled with selfless, peace-loving people who govern, while the Dauntless fraction is filled with the brave, who protect and police.
The talented Shailene Woodley (The Descendants) stars as Tris, and the story begins as she takes the compulsory teenage test to see what faction she belongs to. With Amity parents, Tris is surprised to learn that she is a Divergent, a dangerous personality encompassing all five factions that is regarded as difficult to control. To survive she covers up being a Divergent and chooses to become a Dauntless, needing to fight to gain a place in the faction.
It's a promising setup, if explained often and unnecessarily. But it comes with a disappointingly slim plot based on the academic Erudite faction, led by a well-cast Kate Winslet, attempting to take over the government and eliminate the Divergents. It's a marginal return for its running time of 2 hours.
Woodley makes an impressive heroine who, like Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games) and Bella (The Twilight Saga), mixes action with a dollop of romance. The chemistry between Tris and her mysterious teacher Four (The Inbetweeners' Theo James), while predictable, will be the appeal for many.
Divergent is a formulaic young-adult adaptation which brings to mind not just The Hunger Games but Ender's Game and The Immortal Instruments: City of Bones. Clearly it is set up for a sequel, so let's hope that now the introductions are done the next chapter spreads its wings with less exposition and more action.
Cast: Shailene Woodley, Kate Winslet and Theo James
Director: Neil Burger
Running time: 139 mins
Rating: M (violence)
Verdict: Feels like every other young adult adaptation.