In recent years, popular, young-adult fiction has introduced movie audiences to such strong female protagonists as Twilight’s Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), and now Tris Prior, played by emerging star, Shailene Woodley, in “Divergent” a thrilling action-adventure film, set in the bleak, dystopian future formerly known as Chicago. (No, really.)
Part of the New York Times Best-Selling novel trilogy, written by Veronica Roth, “Divergent” is set in a world where citizens are divided into five factions based on human virtues: Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Erudite, and Dauntless. When young Beatrice (Tris) is tested for her aptitude in each, her results come back inconclusive, “divergent,” a forbidden designation, and she is warned that she will never fit into any one group. Able to choose her faction, Tris joins Dauntless, the division that protects the republic, and must endure a brutal training period. Upon discovering a conspiracy by a faction leader (Kate Winslet) to destroy all Divergents, Tris teams up with the mysterious Four (Theo James) to find out what makes being Divergent so dangerous before it’s too late.
Director Neil Burger does a fine job of condensing and clarifying the novel’s elaborate storylines, and keeps the pace at a break neck level that makes the 2 plus hour running time go by in a flash.
Woodley (“The Spectacular Now”, “The Decendants”) offers a solid and unflinching take on the young Tris, and definitely draws comparisons to Jennifer Lawrence’s powerful portrayal of Hunger Games’ Katness. As Four, James (“The Inbetweeners”) offers dimension to what might have otherwise been a brooding, one-note character, while Winslet offers a fairly conventional turn as Jeanine Matthews, the evil leader of Erudite faction.
The Bottom Line: Like “Hunger Games”, “Divergent” appears to be the beginning of a strong franchise and another opportunity for young girls to see a strong female characterization. Ladies, surprise your daughters and granddaughters and tell them you want to take them to see it. You’ll be entertained, and it might even launch a conversation about female roles in today’s society.
2 hr. 23 min. Rated PG-13 – for intense violence and action, thematic elements, some sensuality