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Neil Burger‘s Divergent is the latest young adult blockbuster to hit theaters. Shailene Woodley, who, up until Divergent, had only appeared in an ABC Family TV show and a few indie films, carries the first installment with humility and wit. Her heroine, Tris, is brave, selfless and beautiful, which are all things to admire in a young female protagonist. Woodley is joined by a talented cast of actors, including Kate Winslet, Ashley Judd, Maggie Q, Mekhi Phifer, Miles Teller, and her onscreen love interest, Theo James. Together they give life to Veronica Roth‘s mega-popular book series, which has already sold 11 million copies. And as far as YA films go, Divergent does deliver the thrills, the romance and a good message to young people: be yourself.

The Players

  • Directors: Neil Burger
  • Screenwriters: Evan Daugherty, Vanessa Taylor, Veronica Roth (novel)
  • Cast: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet, Miles Teller, Jai Courtney, Zoe Kravitz, Ashley Judd, Maggie Q, Mekhi Phifer
  • Cinematography by: Alwin H. Küchler
  • Music by: Junkie XL

The Plot:

In a world divided by factions based on virtues, Tris learns she’s Divergent and won’t fit in. When she discovers a plot to destroy Divergents, Tris and the mysterious Four must find out what makes Divergents dangerous before it’s too late.

The Good:

  • Shailene Woodley: Divergent is going to make Shailene Woodley a superstar, and for all the right reasons. She’s a talented actress, and a powerful force onscreen, and she manages to hold her own among seasoned actresses like Kate Winslet and Ashley Judd. Sure, she could be doing something better with her time, but this kind of film will give her talent the kind of exposure it deserves, you know, like The Hunger Games did for Jennifer Lawrence.
  • The Action: The action kicks in when Tris decides to be a part of the Dauntless faction, which is best described as courageous, brave and fearless. The people of Dauntless are in charge of the city’s security; their job is to protect the inhabitants from threats within and without as the city’s peacekeepers. They’re like the city’s police, but with tattoos and better outfits. Training is a huge part of the initiation process into the Dauntless faction, and here is where all the action fits in. There’s brutal fight scenes, an awesome sequence of Woodley zip-lining over a destroyed Chicago, gun battles and more. There’s also a lot of tension between the characters that make for some fun scenes.
  • The Message: Tris goes from being a shy, selfless teen girl to fighting guys and jumping off trains and buildings. Her arc is very interesting, and that’s what makes this first film worth checking out (even if you haven’t read the books). It’s hard not to compare this YA film to The Hunger Games. There are a lot of similarities between the two, but Divergent manages to be different. This film is about being true to yourself, and fighting for that right. Perhaps the message is not as deep as The Hunger Games, but it’s enticing enough.

The So-So:

  • Too Serious: If anything, it seems like this movie might take itself a little too seriously. There’s hardly any humor. No, Divergent is not supposed to be a comedy, but one would assume that because the target audience is very young, the filmmakers would try to have a bit of fun with teen anxiety. But Burger chose go for a more serious tone, and as a result may end up alienating some of the young audience goers. These Dauntless kids aren’t regular teens, they’re super, and it’s hard to relate to them.
  • Underused Cast: There’s a talented cast at work here, but many of them are insufficiently used. Miles Teller, for example, plays Peter, a cruel and ill-tempered member of Dauntless. He’s one of Tris’ enemies/bullies. Teller has fun with his character, and he’s great in the role, but we hardly ever get to enjoy him. And the same can be said for Kate Winslet, Maggie Q and Ashley Judd. These three women are talented actresses, and it would’ve been nice to see more of them in the film.

Overall:

The key to enjoying Divergent is having low expectations. The film is not as good as The Hunger Games, but there’s some solid raw violence that definitely draws one in. There’s loads of action and a neat and simple message, but the cast is devastatingly underused. However, Woodley delivers a powerful performance, and that makes this movie worth-watching.

The Rating: 7.5/10

Divergent opens in theaters March 21.

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Trailer:

Are you excited for Divergent?