In a dystopian, war-ravaged future, the only survivors live within a walled-in city, within which they are split into five groups, depending on their personality types, as defined in tests held when they reach sixteen years old. Tris and her brother, Caleb, have reached this pivotal moment in their lives. They grew up in the Abnegation faction – one devoted to helping others and whom also runs the government – but when Tris’ test results are inconclusive, she hides herself within Dauntless – the thrill-seeking soldier faction. You know what, this is stupid. I have no room in my life for young adult fiction I didn’t grow up reading – Harry Potter has been grandfathered in, everything else just shouldn’t bother, and that includes The Hunger Games, which this is clearly attempting to emulate, and neither of which I’m overly fond of. So why did I even watch this? Well, I made a decision some time ago to watch all the films of certain film-makers, and I allowed my partner to select one such person for me. She opted for Kate Winslet, which at the time didn’t prove too much of an issue, especially considering how many of her films were already on the various lists I’m going through (at the time of writing, I’ve only got three films left to knock out). This all changed, however, when Winslet signed on to a franchise that is worlds away from talent of her caliber. It’s a sad state of affairs if she’s going for the paycheck projects now, as Divergent is not a good movie, certainly not one I enjoyed, and at a pivotal moment when Winslet’s character was potentially going to be killed I was desperately willing it to happen, if only so I’d be spared the next instalments, especially seeing as this is yet another casualty of the last-book-being-split-into-two-films syndrome currently inflicting the world.Let’s begin with the overall premise. There’s probably going to be a few spoilers dotted around here and there, so if you’re planning on watching this is the point where you flick down to the bottom paragraph and call it a day I’m afraid. This is set in a dystopian future, ravaged by some international war. Fine, no problems there. The citizens of the surviving walled-in Chicago are told that they mustn’t go beyond the wall, because REASONS, so obviously there’s some big conspiracy going on there that will play a larger part in the later books. If this turns out to be some The Village bullshit, where there hasn’t been a war, and the rest of the world is just fine, well then you can look forward to a particularly irate review in the future.
What is ridiculous about the city we focus on is that it’s split into six distinct groups. Abnegation, the group which initially includes Tris (Shailene Woodley), her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort), their parents (Tony Goldwyn and Ashley Judd) and the city’s mayor, Marcus (Ray Stevenson), which is dedicated to helping others and never thinking of themselves – they even have rules on how long each person can spend looking in the mirror each day. Erudite is made up of the intelligent people. They do all the science stuff, and are not-too-secretly planning on taking down Abnegation’s hold on the government. Kate Winslet is in this group, and they’re evil. You can tell, because they don’t smile, are all very serious about everything, and emit a general aura of sinister-ness that no-one else picks up on because the only smart people are already inside Erudite. It’s kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy, kind of thing. Candor are insufferably honest, to a point of being rude. This fifth of the population all seem to be lawyers or judges, which statistically speaking must make this a horrible place to live, and really they should be estate agents and journalists. Amity work the land, farming and working outdoors because they’re always happy, so they may as well do the job no-one else wants to do. Dauntless are the risk-taking soldiers of this world. We are introduced to them at the Sorting Hat ceremony, during which they all jump from a speeding train arriving minutes before they need to be there, all yelling and screaming like the most annoying people you could think of. Imagine the guy on the bus who is completely oblivious to the fact that the other passengers probably don’t want to listen to Skrillex at full volume, whilst he’s eating a stinking bishop and herring sandwich, and you’ll get an idea of just how annoying these bastards are. They’re looked at with admiration and envy by our heroine, which is only understandable because they’re so utterly oblivious to how intolerable they are that their world must be some kind of hippy utopia. Finally, there’s the Factionless, essentially homeless people who for one reason or another don’t belong to any of the other districts or magical houses. They’re homeless, jobless, and looked down upon by everyone else, only helped by the Abnegation guys.This whole setup is ridiculous. Just silly, so much so that I couldn’t get past it and into the rest of the film. When Tris enters the Dauntless faction – because she’s a stupid child who doesn’t think things through or listen to anyone else’s logical advice, despite showing intelligence and problem solving skills in other areas of the story – we discover that only a select few of the candidates make it through the training, with the rest being kicked out into the Factionless zones. They are also assigned jobs after their training, depending on how good they are – guarding the wall, policing the town etc. What is never explained is who does the menial jobs, the custodial work, cooking, etc. around the place. Do they spend a great deal of time and effort training their recruits, only to use the worst of the best to scrub out the toilets every week? Surely that’s not much of a reward after surviving the gruelling training, and seeing as that job requires the minimum amount of dauntlessness, they could give it to one of the lesser recruits instead? The jobs can’t be done by one of the other factions, because Dauntless are secluded from everyone else, again because REASONS. Also, one of the people Tris meets in Dauntless is Maggie Q’s Tori, who works as both a personality tester and a tattoo artist. Was she assigned these positions due to her training results? Or is she moonlighting? I’m confused.
The whole premise of the film is that Tris is divergent – meaning she does not belong to just one faction, and instead holds elements of all of them. This is supposedly very rare (it’s not, as it turns out) and is severely frowned upon by everyone in charge. No-one seems to question exactly why it is so terrible to be a divergent, it’s just not the done thing to be. This has nothing to do with why Tris ends up in Dauntless, seeing as the test doesn’t decide where people go, they still have the opportunity to exercise free will and choose for themselves, essentially making the test entirely pointless for anything other than a way of us finding out that Tris is different from everyone else. She doesn’t belong to anyone category, and I’m sure will eventually revolutionise this shambolic cultural structure, because it takes a little bit of everything to make a person, you can’t put them into one box. That’s what’s called a moral, which is usually nicely tucked away in the film somewhere, and isn’t at all spelled out in lines of dialogue like “I don’t want to be just one thing. I can’t be. I want to be brave, and I want to be selfless, intelligent, and honest and kind.” Urgh.
Tris’ fellow Dauntless trainees are comprised of Zoe Kravitz’s Christina (formerly Candor, so her only character trait is unwavering honesty, something barely used), Miles Teller’s Peter (an areshole for literally no reason, whose actions in the film’s are probably explained better in the book, but which don’t make sense here), some background characters who never speak, and an assortment of interchangeable, blank-faces male companions who offer no personality whatsoever, and are therefore interchangeable from one another. Apparently they each have names, and when one of them actually does something late in the film, it’s not apparent that he’s the one doing it because he’s so damn unmemorable. I’d mention the actor who did it, but looking through IMDb I couldn’t tell you which one it was, and frankly I don’t care any more.The soundtrack plays to its key demographic of people younger than me by using what I can only assume are current songs, of which far too many are played over the myriad triumphant moments Tris experiences on her journey from being someone utterly terrible at everything, to someone who, despite being amazing at every challenge placed in front of her, is still ranked relatively low on the scoreboards because she pissed off her trainer (Jai Courtney’s pincushion-faced Eric). It’s a lot of teen angsty songs that I hope to never hear again, and I’d have much preferred a decent score (and that’s coming from someone who rarely notices if a score is actually used or not).
When I initially saw the trailer to this film my interest was halfway piqued by some interesting looking, tension filled situations like Tris being trapped in a small box slowly filling with water. As it turns out, pretty much all of these are dream sequences, so that was annoying too, because it removed the survival stakes from the situations. I mentioned earlier that the failing candidates get evicted to the factionless lands. For this to have any impact whatsoever, we actually need to see this happen, to have a named character forcibly removed from their new friends, and to see the ramifications of our heroine’s achievement incurring someone else’s life being over. As you might guess, this doesn’t happen. Sure, people are kicked out (a third of the class after the first round, a THIRD!) but we don’t see it happen, it just does. There’s not even a sad, slowly panning camera over the recently vacated bunks and hastily forgotten belongings. Nothing. As such, it’s not a threat that will ever befall our characters, because it may as well not be happening.Of course, with this being a young adult franchise with a female lead, the film falls into a trope I cannot stand – the arbitrary tacking on off a romantic subplot where no such thing is required or appreciated. Thankfully we’re spared an unbearable love triangle by making the second male lead Tris’ brother, but why they even danced around Theo James’ Four being a possible love interest and didn’t just plunge into it from he off I’ll never know. The climax also feels very rushed. This is a two-hour-and-twenty-minute film, of which the first two hours feels like exposition and training, until the film-makers suddenly realised “Oh crap, we need to end this thing somehow, quick lets chuck in a finale.” This makes it all feel very uneven, and the relief that washed over me when the film ended was mixed with a sense of whiplash by the sudden halt of the story.
In summary, this is far from being the worst Winslet film I’ve seen – I sincerely hope nothing ever knocks Movie 43 from that prestigious position – and if you like The Hunger Games but cannot wait the next couple of months until film 3a comes out, then this might just tide you over. Otherwise, skip, because I’ve just spent the past 2,000 words explaining what’s wrong with the film, and I didn’t mention an awful lot of positive points, because, well, there aren’t any. The acting is decent I suppose, and I like the idea of Winslet taking on the vole of an antagonist, I just wish it hadn’t been in this.
Choose film 3/10