Review: ‘Divergent’ Offers an Antidote to ‘Twilight’

It seems everywhere we turn these days, there’s an angst-driven but pure-hearted teen forced to fight for humanity in a darkly dystopian universe.

It started with Harry Potter, I suppose, and his fantastical battle against the Hitleresque Voldemort. Along came Ender’s Game, in which a boy is tasked with saving the world. The current reigning dystopian queen is Katniss Everdeen who takes on the Hunger Games with her trusty bow and arrow.

Divergent, based on the first of a series of books by Veronica Roth, treads much the same ground but has a completely different tone. In a post-war future, the citizens of what used to be Chicago divide into five factions. These factions are like character-based tribes, or maybe really intense fraternities.

Each faction is centered on a human strength and virtue: Abnegation values selfishness, Candor honesty, Amity kindness, Erudite knowledge, and Dauntless bravery.

Based on their personality, carefully calibrated by a personality test at 16, most people tend to fit neatly into one faction. But when Beatrice, an Abnegation teen, takes her test the results show she fits in no faction, or perhaps all of them. She’s Divergent, not easily categorized, and that makes her dangerous to the order.

There is a dark side to this arrangement, for with each virtue comes a vice. One can be brutally honest, for example, or passively kind, or viciously brave. It turns out human nature cannot be shoehorned into factions any more than it can shine in chaos.

For Beatrice, choosing a faction means keeping her dangerous secret, coming into a sense of herself, and finding an attractive boy she just might want to know better.

The adaptation of the book will make fans of the series very happy. Rising star Shailene Woodley plays Beatrice and she brings a fine mix of grit and angst to the role. Theo James as Four (yes, his name is Four) is little more than dreamy, but as the market for this movie is primarily teen girls, dreamy is just fine. There are changes to the plot of the book and to some characters, but none that matter very much. The gist of the story is the same.

The source material is quite dark, but the film manages to keep it within a PG-13 rating. Many characters die, although fewer than in the book, but the violence is safely within PG-13 limits. They use a few words, rhyming with schmich and schmassole, but very rarely.

Sexuality is another matter. One of the distinguishing characteristics of this line of books is the relationship that develops between Beatrice and her love interest. As it goes on, it grows in maturity and mutual respect, surviving misunderstandings and breaches of trust to become something quite interesting. This all starts, as most romances do, with mutual attraction, something explored in both the book and the movie. However, both characters work to reign in their desire as a sign of respect for each other and themselves. In fact, Beatrice both demands and earns respect from her young man, as well as others.

You might call her the anti-Bella.

 

She’s nothing like that vampire-girlfriend and this romance is nothing like Twilight.

That’s a good thing. However, while the attraction and restraint come through in the movie, the deeper growth of the relationship is not as apparent as in the books. Here’s hoping that they explore it a little more in the sequels, if there are sequels.

This movie suffers by comparison to The Hunger Games. It is not quite the event that Hunger Games movies are. But that does not mean it has less value in its own right.

The focus on human nature, with its glories and frailties, as well as the novel approach to love mean it’s a movie you can be confident in showing to your tween, and even tweens who are able to handle the dark thematic material. At its core, it’s edifying.

 

First Look: New ‘Divergent Trailer’ Is Finally Here (Video)

Are you looking forward to this movie? I have to say it looks pretty good. I’m intrigued. And Shailene Woodley is an amazing actress. What do you think? Yes or no?

Comic Con 2013 Wrap: What to check out on TV and film

San Diego Comic Con is both a fan celebration of all that’s happened in the past year(s) and a launch pad for new projects.. Keep an eye out for these in the next year:

TELEVISION

MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. (ABC) – Producer/Director Joss Whedon has gone on record to say Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson – killed in The Avengers – has returned from the dead thanks to fan love.  Ming-Na (Eureka), Elizabeth Henstridge (Hollyoaks), Ian De Caestecker (The Fades), Brett Dalton (Killing Lincoln) and Chloe Bennet (Nashville) round out the team who handle the world’s superheroes. Premieres Sept 24, 2013.

INTELLIGENCE (CBS) – Josh Holloway (LOST) plays a computer enhanced cyber-agent assigned a Secret Service handler (Once Upon a Time’s Megan Ory). Marg Hellenberger (CSI) stars as Holloway’s boss. Based on an unpublished novel, coming to TV February, 2014.

THE 100 (CW) – 100 years after fleeing an irradiated Earth in a space colony, human survivors sent 100 juvenile delinquents back down to the planet to see if it in habitable. Starring Henry Ian Cusack (LOST), Paige Turco (The Agency), Isaiah Washington (Grey’s Anatomy) and Eliza Taylor (Neighbours). Coming spring 2014.

SLEEPY HOLLOW (FOX) – Ichabod Crane finds himself pulled into a ravaged modern age. He partners with a small town sheriff to fight evil and defend the world. From Alex Kurtzman and Robert Orci (Transformers, Fringe, Star Trek) and starring Tom Mison and Nicole Beharie (Shame). Premieres Sept 16, 2013.

ALMOST HUMAN (FOX) – An unlikely pairing of part human/part android cops investigate crime and espionage in a future world. Starring Karl Urban (Star Trek) and Michael Ealy (Sleeper Cell). Produced by J.J. Abrams. Look for it in late fall 2013

ONCE UPON A TIME IN WONDERLAND (ABC) – Down the rabbit hole with writers Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz as they spin off Once Upon a Time, mixing Alice’s Wonderland with Storybrooke. Starring Sophia Lowe (Two Mothers), Emma Rigby (Hollyoaks), Naveen Andrews (LOST), and John Lithgow as the voice of the White Rabbit. Premiers October 10, 2013.

ORPHAN BLACK (BBC America) – It’s already aired one season on BBC America and is gaining momentum stateside. Following the lives and mysteries of multiple clones, the show is critically acclaimed for storytelling and asking important ethical questions. Starring Tatiana Maslany (The Nativity), Dylan Bruce (As the World Turns) and Jordan Gavaris (Unnatural History). Catch the first season on BBC America, season 2 returns in 2014.

MOVIES

THE ZERO THEOREM (Voltage Pictures) – A tiny film compared to some of these others, Zero follows an eccentric recluse of a computer genius  working to solve the Zero Theorem and discover the purpose of life.  Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained), Tilda Swinton (The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe), Ben Whishaw (Skyfall), David Thewlis (Harry Potter series) and Lucas Hedges (Moonrise Kingdom). Releasing Dec 20, 2o13.

THE WOLVERINE (20th Century Fox) –Pining over the loss of Jean Grey in X-Men: The Last Stand, Hugh Jackman’s Logan is embroiled in a world of Japanese intrigue. Smaller and more personal than most of the hero films coming out, The Wolverine hopes to reconnect with fans disappointed by 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Currently in theaters

THE AMAZING SPIDER MAN 2 (Sony Pictures) – Spider-Man is credited with kicking off the superhero franchises with the 2002 Tobey Maguire version and these “Amazing” reboots starring Andrew Garfield have secured the series a reputation for solid storytelling. Neither the flashiest nor the darkest of the comic franchises, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 brings Jamie Foxx in as villain Electro. Releasing May 2, 2014.

DIVERGENT (Summit Entertainment) – Veronica Roth’s Divergent novel series  is still growing it’s fanbase, but after The Hunger Games: Catching Fire comes and goes in late 2013, fans hungry for dystopian young adult drama may lock on. It’s a strong story set in future Chicago, where humans have been divided into five personality-based factions. But not everybody fits – some are divergent… Releasing March 21, 2014.

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (20th Century Fox) – Uniting a gigantic cast of nearly all previous mutants (twenty principal cast members!) Future Past may have bitten off more than can be chewed in one story. If it works it will be a colossal success, if not it could be the death-knell of all X-films. Releasing May 23, 2014.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (Marvel) – Chris Evans Captain and Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow defend America. That’s about all we know, except that the footage looks great and there’s a good amount of Marvel’s patented humorous banter. Also featuring Samuel L. Jackson and…Robert Redford! Releasing April 4, 2014.

THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE (Lionsgate) – Thought the book is a bit of a lull between the first and third titles, Jennifer Lawrence’s thoughtful portrayal of Katniss Everdeen already guarantees Catching Fire will be a huge success. The big question about this sequel is whether to see it opening night. Releasing Nov 22, 2013

THOR: THE DARK WORLD (Marvel) – Marvel needs to be a little careful, as audiences may burn out on separate stories and a united cast in The Avengers 2. Thor wasn’t the strongest origin story of the bunch, though it did give us Loki to make life difficult for The Avengers. Thor: The Dark World needs to do something impressively different to keep fans coming back.  Still, Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston! Releasing Nov 8, 2013

THE AVENGERS 2: AGE OF ULTRON (Marvel) – Discovering the villains is one of the fun things for comic movie watchers who are not comic book readers. Ultron is an AI creation who will take on The Avengers May 1, 2015. We’ll hear more about it at next year’s Comic Con.

ENDER’S GAME (Summit Entertainment) – All my feelings on this adaptation can be found here. See the movie, but don’t cheat yourself – read the book first. Releasing Nov 11, 2013.

Untitled Superman + Batman film (Warner Bros) – Arguably the most shocking moment in Hall H this year was this reveal of a combo film. No word yet on whether it will be a buddy, team or rival story and it’s not even scheduled until 2015, leaving plenty of time for speculation and fan arguments.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X