It is the age of the Young Adult fiction franchises, the success of films such as Twilight and The Hunger Games prove just that but Ender’s Game, less successful then the other two films, is a thorn in that hypothesis. The major links between Twilight, Hunger Games and Divergent is that they contain a strong, central female character (never seen Twilight and never will) and all of the source novels for each of the three films is written by a women.
The next big trilogy to get the big screen treatment is Veronica Roth’s Divergent, Divergent is set in a post apocalyptic Chicago where society is split into five different factions. These five factions are Abnegation (selfless), Amity (peaceful), Candor (honest), Dauntless, (brave) and Erudite (intelligence). Beatrice Prior is a resident of Abnegation, but feels she doesn’t possess the qualities to make a good Abnegatian and when the results of her serum-based aptitude test (which determines the faction that the person is best suited for) proves inconclusive, Beatrice becomes a divergent. Divergents are deeply feared among the majority for their differences, and they are seen as a threat. Beatrice must keep this dangerous secret buried deep within her, never to tell a soul.
Following the serum-based aptitude test the sixteen year old participants pick their faction at a ceremony (the test is a guideline rather than the final word), Beatrice chooses Dauntless leaving her family behind. Dauntless take only the very best, led by Four (Theo James) and Eric (Jai Courtney) the new recruits undergo tough tests to determine who is suitable to become a member of Dauntless and who will cast aside to live among the factionless. Beatrice is physically weaker than the other new recruits thus most hard to make the cut whilst keeping her deadly secret hidden.
Comparisons with The Hunger Games are inevitable, both films deal with themes of authority and rebellion and both films follow the same basic story where the central character undergoes training before she is thrown into life threatening situations, but The Hunger Games fleshes out its themes in a more interesting way as well as making for a more interesting story. Divergant’s other themes of race and identity make for a more interesting discussion, there is a sense that Erudite see themselves as more superior than the other factions, particularly Abnegation. Erudite’s faction leader Jeanine Matthews’ (Kate Winslet) blond hair gives her an almost Aryan quality and Erudite's menacing wish for power gives them an authoritarian, 1984 feel.
So Divergent isn’t without its themes, but it does seem to discuss themes of violence almost hesitantly by failing to show the effect of violence in nothing more than superficial terms, it always seemed to be shoved towards the background even when the results of the violence are at its peak. It results in a rather unengaging expirence overall and lacks the emotional bite of the Hunger Games of whose violence is at the forefront of the film. The central premise is flawed, surely splitting people into different factions will generate more tension than bring peace despite how settled people in their respective factions, and having one faction govern all factions will always end in tears.
At 140 minutes Divergent is rather slow as the film seems to drag in the first acts before it rushes through the story's conclusion in an unsatisfying finale. That all considered, however, there are some notable aspects that deserve some plaudits. The female characters are well rounded and well written, the mother-daughter relationship is a reasonably poignant one and Shailene Woodley’s central performance does bring the film’s quality up a notch as she more proves a match for Kate Winslet’s menacing performance. The fear simulation is also impressive and, to an extent, opens up the characters further and also dares to do something many big Blockbuster films have not (although reaction to this scene in question is mixed as, in the novel, her fear is intimacy not sexual assault).
Shailene Woodley is good in the central role, but her performance isn't quite enough for the film to overcome its flaws.