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Overall Rating

Awesome: 6.25%
Worth A Look: 0%
Just Average: 6.25%
Pretty Crappy62.5%
Sucks: 25%

4 reviews, 8 user ratings

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by Peter Sobczynski

"I've Seen The Future And Brother, It Is Whiny. . ."
1 stars

After leaving the screening of "Divergent," the highly anticipated adaptation of the first part of Veronica Roth's best-selling YA trilogy, I came across a group of girls who had attended as well and asked them if the film followed the source material fairly closely or if it diverged in the manner of so many other book-to-film transfers over the years. They assured me that with the exception of a couple of minor elements--I think one of them said something about an eye-gouging that was absent--the film pretty much followed the book throughout. Now that I know that this is not another case of Hollywood hacks running roughshod over some precious text, I feel far more comfortable in offering up the humble observation that "Divergent," at least in its film version, is one of the stupidest things that I have ever encountered in my lifetime of pop culture consumption and bear in mind, I was once paid to read Celine Dion's autobiography. Perhaps the girl mentioning the eye-gouging wasn't referring to a plot point as much as she was talking about what she wanted to do at some point during the plot.

In the not-too-distant future, the world as we know it is virtually wiped out after an apocalyptic war. The good news is that the great city of Chicago appears to be civilization's last hope but the bad news is that it has become a grim city surrounded by giant walls to keep out the unknown terrors of the outside world. In order to prevent future conflicts, the population is now divided into five distinct factions based on each individual persons key personality trait--the selfless and noble Abnegation (who run the government), the brave and fearless Dauntless (who enforce the laws)s, the highly educated Erudites, the bold and outspoken Candor (who practice law and who won't shut up after three drinks) and the hippie-like farmers of Amity. Upon turning 16, each citizen undergoes Choosing Day, in which they must select one faction and spend the rest of their lives living and working only with their kind. Before this, they undergo a test that tells them the one and only group they are most suited for but as it turns out, these results are non-binding and after going through all of that and learning which one is the best fit, they can still choose to pick a different group on Choosing Day if they feel that it is where they truly belong. Frankly, the test seems like utter nonsense--I have taken humanities exams that had more conclusive and cut-and-dried results than this--but according to Erudite leader Jeanine (Kate Winslet), it is absolutely necessary for the continued survival of mankind.

Of course, you can't have a saga about a dystopian future populated by a quasi-socialist society without a seemingly ordinary and unexceptional person--preferably one who doesn't realize just how special they are and there need to be reminded of it every couple of scenes by the other characters--to rise up and bring the whole thing down, though not so completely so as to prevent any sequels. Enter Beatrice (Shailene Woodley), a seemingly ordinary and unexceptional girl who has grown up in Abnegation with her parents (Tony Goldwyn and Ashley Judd) and brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and is about to undergo her own Choosing Day. When she takes her test, however, her tester (Maggie Q) is shocked to discover that rather than being revealed as straight-up Abnegation, Beatrice displays attributes for multiple factions. In other words, she is Divergent, an exceptionally rare breed that cannot be controlled or tied down to one group and therefore threaten the entire existence of the system. So as not to be discovered and destroyed by the powers-that-be because of her incredibly unique abilities, the tester falsifies the results and when Choosing Day arrives, Beatrice shocks her parents by choosing Dauntless.

Now known as Tris, our heroine goes off to begin her period of grueling physical and mental training. Although brave, Tris discovers that having spent her entire life being noble and selfless has done little for her upper body strength and appears to be on the verge of washing out of Dauntless altogether and winding up on the streets among the factionless, a possibility that nasty trainer Eric (Jai Courtney) and nastier fellow recruit Peter (Miles Teller) remind her of roughly every five minutes. Luckily for her, one of the other trainers is Four (Theo James) and though he appears to be just as tough as the others, you can just tell that he is the one who can see beyond Tris's unpromising exterior to see the fierce, brave, dedicated, strong and all-around wonderful person that she is deep down. WIth his help, she just manages to pass the physical part of her training but when she starts zipping through the mental tests with ridiculous ease, Four figures out that she is Divergent but instead of turning her in, he helps her so that she can pass her final mental exam the way that a Dauntless would so that no one will discover just how unique and dangerous to the system she really is.

She passes but she has barely become a full-fledged Dauntless when she discovers that there have been all sorts of skulduggery going on during her extended process of self-affirmation. It turns out that Jeanine and the other Erudites have decided that Abnegation--what with their self-sacrifice and nobility and basic humanity and drab garments--need to be overthrown as the ruling party so that they can be put in charge in order to make things slightly more fascistic than before. ("Human nature is the enemy.") To do this, she doses most of the Dauntless crew with a mind-control drug that will force them to do her bidding by attacking Abnegation and wiping them out for good without even realizing it. As an added benefit, the drug also helps uncover hiding Divergents that need to be eradicated for her plan to work because they are so brave and resourceful and impossible to fully control. Luckily, Tris proves to be unexpectedly brave and resourceful and impossible to fully control and with a rag-tag group of Abnegation members, she storms the Dauntless compound in the hopes of foiling Jeanine's plan and saving the day for everyone. Whether she succeeds or not will be left for you to discover but I would simply say that if you are working on a diabolical plot to seize control of entire known world, the main component of your plan should not seem to have been inspired directly by the mad scheme developed by the bad guys in "Strange Brew."

Okay, perhaps Roth and screenwriters Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor were not consciously evoking Brewmeister Smith with that particular development but you can hardly blame me for thinking that since virtually everything else in "Divergent" seems to have been borrowed wholesale from other sources and jammed together into a story that could be deemed "original" only in the loosest definition of the word. If you took the "Harry Potter," "Twilight," "The Hunger Games" and the "Matrix" sagas, added in some old Lyndon LaRouche campaign materials, chucked the whole lot into an industrial mixer and then stuck the remains together seemingly at random, the results would scarcely be different than what is on display here. Now if the film had used these sources as a stepping-off point to something else, I might not have minded so much but as is, all they do is repeat the achievements of their predecessors without adding anything new to the program. In essence, "Divergent" plays like a creative writing assignment turned in by a not-so-creative student who has just stolen a bunch of ideas and is hoping and praying that the teacher doesn't notice.

If a lack of originality was the only real problem with "Divergent," that would be one thing but this is a film that fails miserably in practically every area. For starters, for a film set in a grim future dystopia where everything revolves around one basic narrative concept, that concept has to be presented in a believable manner, at least within the context of the story, if it is to have any hope of succeeding. "The Hunger Games," to cite one obvious example, worked on the screen because the filmmakers took the time to carefully and plausibly establish its world so that viewers could believe in its existence--or at least temporarily suspend disbelief--so that the more fanciful concepts had a reasonably strong narrative foundation. With "Divergent," I never believed a single thing that I was seeing and hearing other than the notion of Chicago surviving the apocalypse (fitting since it presumably began with the Cubs only three outs away from winning the World Series). The whole business of the wholesale acceptance of factions and the danger of Divergents is so poorly conceived and executed that it makes the Purge seem logical and well-considered by comparison and since it is impossible to buy the world or the system that it presents, it is equally impossible to have any real stake in seeing it brought down. (Also, there is a streak on anti-intellectualism running through the story via the machinations of Jeanine and the Erudites that is decidedly off-putting--apparently craving power is perfectly acceptable as long as it isn't combined with any of that fancy book learning.)

Moving on, the screenplay is such complete nonsense that if Hollywood ever decided to make a parody version of this story, the could simply reuse this script and practically nobody would notice the difference. Discounting the scenes in which everyone reminds Tris how unique and special and dangerous to the system she really is which constitutes roughly a third of the screenplay, the rest of the dialogue seems to consist almost entirely of people explaining that things are a certain way and cannot be changed, those same people repeating that things are a certain way and cannot be changed and other people explaining how those unchangeable things can indeed be changed after all. These scenes are written with all the grace of a set a stereo instructions and the cool logic of the old "Susquehanna Hat Company" routine and do nothing but inspire bad laughs. Eventually, the film just devolves into a series of big action beats but they are presented so listlessly by director Neil Burger that instead of getting caught up in the "excitement," most viewers will be idly speculating as to how many good directors spit the bit on this particular franchise before it was put in the hands of the auteur of "The Illusionist" and "Limitless."

There are a number of good actors who are clearly slumming here in exchange for a paycheck and the possibility of having their own series and action figure line. Shailene Woodley, for example, has already demonstrated herself to be one of the more exciting young American actresses working today through films like "The Descendants" and "The Spectacular Now" and there are a few moments here and there where she almost makes things work just by the sheer force of her personality. It isn't enough, however, and too often, she is forced to stand around reciting dialogue that is almost literally unspeakable at times. (Amusingly, co-star Miles Teller appeared opposite her in "The Spectacular Now" and this ends up adding an amusing undertone to their scenes of mutual antagonism that will at least briefly amuse anyone who saw their previous collaboration.) As her chief suitor, Theo James is an anonymous lunk who is hunky yet non-threatening and barely registers even when he is front and center on the screen--needless to say, the romance that is meant to develop between him and Woodley is just another non-starter in a plot chock-full of them.

Ashley Judd and Maggie Q can be exciting presences but are wasted here in roles that require them to cough up the necessary exposition and then get out of the way. At least in their cases, you can sort of forget that they are even there but that is unfortunately not the case with Kate Winslet, whose appearance as the evil mastermind gives audiences a chance to see one of the world's best actresses give one of her very worst performances--even her appearance in "Movie 43" demonstrated more focus and commitment than her work here. Between her turn here and Jodie Foster's equally awful work in a similar part in "Elysium," it appears that all Oscar-winning actresses of note should now as a rule avoid films requiring them to play someone ruthlessly trying to command an odd futuristic society. (Okay, Marion Cotillard can give it a shot but no one else.)

Veering wildly between the staggeringly idiotic and the just plain staggering (and did I mention that this thing clocks in at 140 minutes--roughly the same running time as the slightly better "2001"--to boot?), "Divergent" is such an ungodly mess that it comes frighteningly close to making the "Twilight" films seem well-planned and intelligently executed by comparison. Perhaps it may satisfy devotees of the book--the aforementioned girls in the parking lot seemed okay with it, thought they weren't exactly bubbling over with wild enthusiasm--but anyone looking for a film that can stand on its own two feet will be stunned by the laziness and utter incompetence on display here. I am sure that there are plenty of "Divergent" fans who would like to chime in to explain to me how wonderful both the book and the film are and offer an extensive and detailed analysis of what I am missing. To those people, I can only say that while I admire your dedication and zeal, you are wrong and have awful taste in literature and film to boot. I know that this is only March but if this doesn't wind up in a high place of (dis)honor as one of the very worst films of the year, it would be an enormous surprise. In fact, it would be the only thing about "Divergent" that is even remotely surprising.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=24458&reviewer=389
originally posted: 03/21/14 13:38:08
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Trilogy Starters: For more in the Trilogy Starters series, click here.

User Comments

5/26/16 Coll Ugh, terrible flick 1 stars
9/18/15 Nour It's just an amazing film 5 stars
11/24/14 DeNitra couldnt get into it 2 stars
8/10/14 lee meh 3 stars
7/23/14 Michael Clonaris Watch only if under 90 I.Q.Most American teenagers? 1 stars
4/10/14 Luke Eletsen Didn't think i would love but am now a huge fan 5 stars
3/30/14 KingNeutron Standard plot, but had some twists - didn't go the way I expected. Woodley was pretty good 3 stars
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  21-Mar-2014 (PG-13)
  DVD: 05-Aug-2014


  DVD: 05-Aug-2014

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