Teens tackle yet another dystopian future in this well-made but derivative franchise-launcher. Filmmaker Neil Burger is more interested in whizzy visuals and a thorny plot to pay much attention to the characters or larger underlying themes, which leaves the film feeling eerily superficial. So while the film is relatively entertaining, it ultimately feels rather pointless.
The story's set after a war has reduced Chicago to a walled-in enclave of people divided into five stabilising factions: charitable Abnegation, peaceful Amity, honest Candor, defending Dauntless and brainy Erudite. Tris (Shailene Woodley) was born to parents (Ashley Judd and Tony Goldwyn) who are leaders in Abnegation, but when time comes for her to select her own path she discovers that she's Divergent, a cross-faction state that threatens those in power. So she chooses to join Dauntless, entering intense physical training under the tutelage of sexy hunk Four (Theo James) and harsh hunk Eric (Jai Courtney). then Dauntless' soldiers get caught up in a power struggle as Erudite leader Jeanine (Kate Winslet) plots to take governmental responsibilities from Abnegation.
All of this scene-setting takes about half of the film's running time, and it's frankly not very exciting. Burger makes sure it looks fantastic, with seamless visual effects, impressive stunt work and flashy action sequences, but the character drama takes longer to kick off. And there's also the problem that it essentially feels like a cross between The Hunger Games and Harry Potter as an unusually gifted teen takes on a controlling society.
Thankfully, things snap into focus in the second half, allowing the actresses to find strong resonance in their characters. Woodley is steely and curious, a terrific hero we can root for. Winslet makes a fantastically shifty villain. And Judd shines in her few scenes. Intriguingly, it's the men whose roles are under-defined for a change, although James is a very watchable love interest and Teller's character begins to develop some interest later on. But by only barely exploring the story's bigger themes, the film never cracks the surface. There's clearly a fan-base from the books, so let's hope the next episode has a chance to deepen into something meaningful.
Genre: Sci fi/Fantasy
Run time: 139 mins
In Theaters: Friday 21st March 2014
Box Office USA: $150.8M
Box Office Worldwide: $274.9M
Distributed by: Lionsgate Films/Summit Entertainment
Production compaines: Summit Entertainment, Red Wagon Entertainment
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 41%
Fresh: 80 Rotten: 117
IMDB: 6.9 / 10
Director: Neil Burger
Screenwriter: Evan Daugherty, Vanessa Taylor
Starring: Shailene Woodley as Beatrice Prior / Tris, Miles Teller as Peter, Theo James as Tobias "Four" Eaton, Kate Winslet as Jeanine Matthews, Ray Stevenson as Marcus Eaton, Maggie Q as Tori, Zoë Kravitz as Christina, Ansel Elgort as Caleb Prior, Jai Courtney as Eric, Ashley Judd as Natalie Prior, Tony Goldwyn as Andrew Prior, Mekhi Phifer as Max, Ben Lloyd-Hughes as Will, Ole Christian Madsen as Al, Ben Lamb as Edward, Brandon Cyrus as Dauntless, Amy Newbold as Molly
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