It's a futuristic world where the government rules with a brutal, totalitarian grip over a world divided into social districts, one of which features some random teenaged girl who is going to fight the system, while falling in love with some cute fellow warrior, so of course this is a very original film. Careful, filmmakers, because you don't want this film to get too "divergent" from "The Hunger Games" if you want to make an overwhelming profit off of teenaged girls. Man, there's no way this isn't going to get the big teen bucks, because all the girls are excited about Shailene Woodley being in "The Fault in Our Stars" (The indie teens who saw "The Spectacular Now" might also get pumped up about her and Miles Teller getting back together), and remember Kate Winslet from "Titanic"... right? Teenaged girls apparently had much better taste in cash cows back in the '90s, and more patience, because if you think that teen films are overlong enough now, you should have seen them back when they were three hours long... and not the first installment in a trilogy that they just end up making into a tetralogy by splitting the final installment into two more two-and-a-half-hour-long films for the sake of maximizing gross revenue. Okay, maybe they are getting more carried away with teen melodramas lately, although I'm not saying that this film is less believable that "Titanic", because it's a portrait on the future of Chicago, where there is dystopia, and no black people left. I mean, yeah, Zoë Kravitz is here, but she's still somehow a lighter version of her Jewish father, and at any rate, I like to think of this as a spin-off to "After Earth", where the sister came down to a dystopian Earth, you know, because I didn't feel that I offended enough people with that joke about race crises in Chicago, and just had to remind everyone else about how I'm that jerk who liked "After Earth". Well, I can at least make the teenaged girls feel better by saying that this film is pretty decent, although it's still not "The Hunger Games", - no matter how much it wants to be - for a number of reasons.
Yeah, I'm going to be going on a while about Evan Daugherty's and Vanessa Taylor's script, starting with the dialogue, which is never sharp, and often embarrassingly trite and cornball, as well as about as forced as lighter touches of attempted wit which break dramatic tensions, resulting in some tonal unevenness to go with focal unevenness. The film messily juggles characters and layers, jarring them in and out, and sometimes doing not much of anything with them as anything more than supplements to the excessiveness which drags the film to a questionable runtime of about 140 minutes, on the backs of monotony and aimless filler, at the expense of depth to substance. Many a supporting role is written as a paper-thin type with no real depth, while most richly drawn characters, including the leads, feel unevenly layered and undercooked, their characterization filled with almost as many holes as the narrative, which is plagued convoluted gaps that I suppose are fulfilled in a novel whose recognizers might be the only ones who get a full grip on what's going on. Although Neil Burger's direction has limp moments, the big problem of the film is, of course, Daughtery's and Taylor's script, as it's so corny, uneven and altogether flat, threatening the decency of the final product through a commercial laziness which is further reflected in the level of originality. If there are potentially unique aspects in this sci-fi young adult property which conforms to relevant tropes mostly established by "The Hunger Games", then it is obscured by the clichéd scripting, thus, the film is totally derivative and predictable, and I would be more willing to get past that if the tropes didn't include trite melodramatics which further superficialized the thematic potential of this film, and doesn't even offer enough dramatic effectiveness to compensate as much as it probably could have. Other aspects of storytelling prove to be inspired enough to compensate adequately and save the final product as decent, which is good, because, wow, when you observe the script, this is a mediocre misfire waiting to happen, being cheesy, inconsistent, trite and, of course, lazy enough to fall flat. The film, however, narrowly avoids that fall, being flawed something fierce, but plenty entertaining, partly thanks to a colorful soundtrack.
Well, maybe I should emphasize that my praise towards the music is not directed towards the song soundtrack, because outside of M83's admittedly strong, sometimes even soaring shoegaze post-rock ballad "I Need You" (Saxophone, y'all!), the new singles showcased in this, if you will, "movie spot" range from mediocre to pretty weak (Ah! Why is Ellie Goulding allowed to live-I mean, keep working?), but when it comes to the score, Dutch electronic DJ Junkie XL, apparently getting some help from the great Hans Zimmer, composes surprisingly tasteful and diverse pieces whose flashy modernism and rich classicalism entertain by their own right, while playing a big role in molding the tone of this film. As for the look of the film, there are few special effects, but what digital touch-ups there are to the technical value of this flick compliment an immersion value which is most established through slick production designs that are accompanied by, or at least broken up by fatigue that augments a sense of realism to this distinct future. The production value is actually pretty limited in this relatively low-scope portrayal of a dystopian future, but those subtle little touches, - probably the only notably subtle touches of this film - do quite a bit in selling this world, no matter how much the storytelling fails to sell the narrative. Veronica Roth's story concept is derivative, but intriguing on paper, with a dynamic dramatic narrative, and a distinguished sci-fi mythology which carries some worthy allegories for society and government corruption (You know, I have to be that jerk who confesses to being on board with what is supposed to be the antagonistic idea of dismantling the weakness that is human nature for the sake of social peace and natural order, though), and holds more potential than the both overwrought and thin script is willing to fulfill. Recognized for his inspiration with "The Illusionist" and "Limitless", Neil Burger is flawed in his direction, but decidedly more inspired than the script, as he delivers on some tight action and, for that matter, tight pacing, which utilizes style and smooth scene structuring comfortably enough to sustain an adequate deal of momentum throughout the film, whose more engaging moments go anchored, not by thoughtful slow spells, but by acting highlights. Now, certain performances are hard to sell through thin characterization and shoddy dialogue, and it doesn't help that a few supporting performances are flat, but many members of this reasonably talented cast are decent, particularly leading lady Shailene Woodley, who just had to have landed the role because she looks a pinch like Jennier Lawrence, and isn't given much to work with, but does more than she probably should, showcasing her abilities by providing a genuine sense of nuance to the Beatrice "Tris" Prior character through human charisma and solid dramatic layers that bring life to what heights in resonance there are in this film. There are, in fact, some very effective moments in this film, and every one of them thrive on Woodley, who may be the saving grace for this often mediocrely crafted melodrama, although that's not to say that there isn't enough entertainment value and effective implemented into this film to endear adequately, even if it does leave much to be desired.
All in all, the film is all but ruined by a lame script plagued with shoddy dialogue, unevenness, excessiveness and underdevelopment behind a trite and melodramatic story concept, but on the backs of excellent score work by Junkie XL, solid art direction by Andrew Max Cahn, Chris Cleek, A. Todd Holland and Patrick M. Sullivan Jr., an intriguing story concept by Veronica Roth, tight direction by Neil Burger, and a strong performance by Shailene Woodley, "Divergent" is narrowly saved as a decent, if misguided young adult sci-fi flick.
2.5/5 - Fair