Divergent Review
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These days, there’s no shortage of film franchises for teens, with each new series hoping to be the next big thing—the next Twilight or The Hunger Games. The latest big contender is Neil Burger’s Divergent, a gritty dystopian thriller based on the novel by author Veronica Roth (see my review).

Divergent takes place 100 years after a great war leaves the world in ruins. In a bombed-out Chicago, society has been divided into five factions, created to keep the peace. But the comfortable balance is threatened by rumors that the governing faction, Abnegation, has been abusing its authority.

Tris (Shailene Woodley) grew up in the simple, selfless faction of Abnegation. But when it comes time for her to take the aptitude test that will help her determine where she belongs, the test comes back inconclusive. Tris is Divergent—she doesn’t fit into any one faction—and that puts her in danger.

Divergent seems to have found the perfect recipe for a teen series. It’s dark and edgy and rebellious without getting bogged down in too much teenage angst. It’s also action-packed and thrilling—especially if you see it in IMAX. And it has just a few touches of romance and drama to give it a little bit of heart.

Once the stage is set, the action rarely lets up. During her training as a prospective member of Dauntless, the toughest, most daring faction, Tris finds herself jumping from trains, hopping off buildings, and zip-lining from abandoned sky scrapers. And when her training ends, the dangers become even greater, building toward a tense conclusion—and toward bigger battles to come.

As for its cast, Shailene Woodley may not be as formidable a star as Jennifer Lawrence, but she holds her own as Tris, giving the daring young heroine a fitting mix of strength, determination, and vulnerability. For the most part, her co-stars tend to fade into the background of Tris’s story—but Theo James, who plays the strong and mysterious Dauntless instructor, Four, is sure to have moms and daughters swooning together (and, since James is 29, those moms aren’t nearly as creepy now as they were when they were swooning over an underage Taylor Lautner in the Twilight movies).

The story, meanwhile, was adapted well, taking key moments from the book and trimming down the fluff. Though the supporting characters don’t get as much development—and a few scenes might not make a whole lot of sense to anyone who hasn’t read the book—the main points of the story are intact, and it all moves along at a relatively swift pace (which is impressive, considering the film’s 139-minute runtime).

Of course, that’s not to say that the story is flawless. In fact, the film’s messages about the dangers of blind conformity are sometimes so blatantly obvious that they can be distracting. But as long as you’re able to overlook the occasional preachiness, you’ll find yourself caught up in this dark and defiant thriller.

Divergent may not be as vibrant as The Hunger Games—nor as passionate as Twilight—but it’s both a solid start to an exciting new series and an impressive adaptation of a popular book. Fans of the books will be thrilled to see the characters and their world on the big screen, while newcomers might find themselves racing out to pick up the novels, to find out what happens next.

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