2014 Running time: 139 Certificate: 12 Rating: 3

Synopsis

In a post-apocalyptic Chicago, people are divided into five rigid 'factions', based on their personalities. Anyone who doesn't fit into a faction - like Beatrice "Tris" Prior (Shailene Woodley) - is classed as 'divergent' and thus a potential danger to the state. Rendered an outcast, Tris exposes the sinister side of her seemingly perfect society. Kate Winslet and rising Brit heartthrob Theo James give sterling support in a futuristic adventure that meets at the convergence of Twilight and The Hunger Games.

Director

  • Neil Burger

Cast

  • Shailene Woodley

  • Theo James

  • Ansel Elgort

  • Ray Stevenson

  • Kate Winslet

  • Maggie Q

Review

Those bemoaning Divergent's pick'n'mix plotting - Potter, Twilight, Hunger Games, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Inception, Full Metal Jacket, Logan's Run (remember that?) and even Invasion of the Body Snatchers all get sizable nods - should remember that JK Rowling and Suzanne Collins also liberally borrowed from earlier sources on their way to super-author status.

And in its sledgehammer metaphoring and scrappy, eager-to-please charm, it's easy to warm to this latest fantasy teen adaptation.

The Descendants star Woodley's Tris is carefully positioned to encompass every young adult dilemma. For her choice at which futuristic faction to join - Erudite (societal engineers), Abnegation (governors), Amity (workers), Candor (legal), Dauntless (military) - read 'college applications'.

Fitting into 'none of the above' but choosing Dauntless, Tris is basically studying what she wants rather than what her parents (Ashley Judd and Tony Goldwyn) wish for her.

She then has the trials of meeting new people, fitting in, confronting bullies and battling peer pressure (what is being divergent if not an outcast from the in-crowd?). There are even tests that can flunk you out and teen suicide also gets a look-in.

And the film's increasingly oppressive society (secretly being managed by no-fun Erudites) is essentially the impending world of adult responsibility, literally churning out mindless drones.

Limitless director Neil Burger plays all this admirably straight to please social media shrieking fans, bringing a requisite sense of scale to his visuals and set-pieces, assisted by Gravity's production designer Andy Nicholson.

Burger also shoots Inception-like subconscious training exercises with enough visual flair and bombast to at least echo Christopher Nolan and mounts the real world conflicts with bruising excitement and, by the beat-the-massacre climax, a nice sense of peril.

But, teen fare such as this, with obligatory two-plus hour running time and achingly hip soundtrack, succeed or fail with their leads.

Happily, Woodley proves no moping Kristen Stewart clone. Charismatic and just about believable in the action department, she leaps on the chance to carry a movie.

Brit co-star James pulls off the near impossible feat of being a prettier James Franco without you wanting to punch his chops in the thankless role of Four, Tris's gruff antagonist turned dreamboat boyfriend.

Winslet (heavily pregnant while filming) has fun as officiously evil, blandly named Jeanine, while the yoof cast of Zoe Kravitz and Ben Lloyd-Hughes as Tris' BFFs, Jai Courtney as a psychotic drill instructor, and Miles Teller as a sniveling Malefoy and Ben Lloyd-Hughes all breathe life into bulk standard supporting characters.

Ignoring the preposterous story and plotting (although amusingly, the near-fascist society has a fittingly great train service, always there for a quick getaway), the main issue is the excessive length. Despite Burger's efforts to keep the film on the forward momentum, Divergent runs out of puff on numerous occasions.

Guys, Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark run two hours apiece. Bear that in mind for the sequel, the already greenlit Insurgent.

Rob Daniel

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