The YA movie (that’s young adult movie to you, old-timer) isn’t going away anytime soon. You can blame Harry Potter and the Twilight saga for that, though The Hunger Games certainly shares the blame. The Hunger Games proved that the young adult model works beyond books that were certified phenomena. The Hunger Games books have been big, but not No.-1-at-the-box-office big. Divergent (the book) is at about the same tier of popularity as Hunger Games, if not slightly lower. Unfortunately, the movie version of the former doesn’t quite match up to the quality of the latter. Like most young-adult movies, Divergent is stubbornly middling.
The world of Divergent revolves around a postapocalyptic society’s five factions: Abnegation (selflessness), Amity (kindness), Candor (honesty), Dauntless (bravery), and Erudite (intelligence). These factions exist to supposedly maintain the peace. Tris (the rising star, Shailene Woodley) is our main character, and her family belongs to Abnegation. They spend their time helping the helpless and running the government. Tris and her brother (Ansel Elgort) have reached the age where they choose what faction they want to live with and work in for the rest of their lives. They and their peers undergo a test that is supposed to help them understand what group they would fit with best, based on…something. It’s not clear. But whatever unclear factors they use to determine their faction tell Tris that she’s…divergent! Which means she doesn’t belong in any faction.
It’s a silly premise. No offense to the fans of the book (or, I suppose, the fans of this movie), but it doesn’t make much sense. We want to encourage peace, so let’s split everyone up into narrowly defined groups! Perhaps this gets fleshed out more in the rest of the series, as, apparently, do the supposedly Christian themes, which were lost on me in watching this first installment. As silly as the premise is, Neil Burger (Limitless, The Illusionist) does a good job making it cinematically appealing. That is, he handles the action well and has filled this flimsy world with solid actors like Woodley and her love interest, Four (Theo James). It’s not very inspiring visually; this could very well be the same world as Hunger Games for all the creativity they threw into it. And therein lies the problem; why not differentiate the movies more? Obviously it didn’t hurt Divergent’s box office, but how long will the public settle for more of the same? Eventually, it’s going to be obvious that Hunger Games is the young-adult movie exception that proves the rule.