Divergent paint-by-numbers but pretty good

Gary Wolcott, atomictown.comMarch 20, 2014 

Divergent is the first film based on Veronica Roth's three post-apocalyptic books. I'm personally tired of movies based on a book series. Like the first Hunger Games and the first Twilight film, Divergent does -- thankfully -- have a beginning, middle and end.

However, being part one of three means during at least the next two years, we'll have at least two more movies. If history is any teacher, and if the producers get greedy with the success of Divergent -- and it will be very, very successful -- they will for sure divide the last book into two parts, and could even make the next two books into four films.

Fortunately, our focus today is Divergent and Divergent is a pretty good movie.

Set in future Chicago, society is now divided into five groups. Each has its own function. Abnegations govern, Dauntless protects, Erudite are the intellectuals, Amity serves and Candor speaks its mind.

At 16, kids go through testing to see which group they belong to, but they are free to choose what group they want.

Tris is born into a family from Abnegations. Most in the now dystopian world have one personality trait, and it is usually the trait of their parents. Tris can't be put into one. That makes her a divergent. They are feared by society's leaders and -- if discovered -- are destroyed.

She decides to be a Dauntless. Tris struggles through training and with her trainers. The character Four is one of them. He and Tris predictably connect and fall in love. A civil war of sorts is taking place as the Erudites are challenging the Abnegations for societal control. Tris and Four are thrust into the conflict, and their nemesis is Jeanine, the leader of the Erudite faction.

While it doesn't exactly follow Roth's complex novel, the story as envisioned by director Neil Burger (Limitless) and co-writers Evan Daugherty (Snow White and the Huntsman) and Vanessa Taylor (Hope Springs and the producer of The Game of Thrones) is terrific.

The intricate, complex and detailed story is told at a rapid-fire pace and is packed with action. The ensemble of young actors range from quite good to adequate. They're led by Shailene Woodley (The Descendants), who plays Tris, and newcomer Theo James, who plays Four. Woodley is a superb actress with the right part. This isn't. But she's adequate, and Tris is expectedly, alternately tough and vulnerable. The hunky James is the no-surprise hard guy with a soft side.

The build-up to their relationship and Tris' Dauntless training and that of her classmates is fun. Where Divergent loses steam is in the cookie-cutter societal threat posed by the Erudites. To mix metaphors, the paint-by-numbers plot turns painfully predictable at the climax when Tris, Four and the others push to end the Erudite assault on the Abnegations.

Roll credits. See you at Insurgent next year.

Director: Neil Burger

Stars: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet, Miles Teller, Ashley Judd, Maggie Q, Tony Goldwyn, Mekhi Phifer, Jai Courtney

Mr. Movie rating: 4 stars

Rated PG-13 for mature themes and violence. It's playing at Regal's Columbia Center 8, the Fairchild Cinemas 12 and at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.

5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen

4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.

3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on DVD.

2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.

0 stars: Speaks for itself.

Does Mr. Movie's take on movies have you squirming in your seat? Let him know at www.tri-cityherald.com/arts/mrmovie.

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