Videophiled: ‘Divergent’ does not diverge from the young adult formula

Divergent (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD), adapted from the young adult science fiction series written by Veronica Roth, is a metaphor without a physical or social reality convincing enough to make it worth investing ourselves in the story built around it.

It’s no fault of Shailene Woodley, who pretty much carries the film as the rebellious daughter in a society where you are defined by your clan. Her parents are Abnegation, which stands for the selfless, but Beatrice chooses Dauntless, the brave, rechristens herself Tris and jumps right into a warrior culture where her selflessness marks her for special treatment. It also rouses the attentions of the broody hunk Four (Theo James), who shares the same deep, dark secret that she does: her gifts straddle the factions, making her a danger to the Fascist Erudite clan. Because, as the film spells out for us, “If you don’t fit into a society, they can’t control you.” In this case, it turns out to be a literal form of control, which Tris rebels against and discovers an underground of like-minded rebels.

It’s all set in a ruined Chicago rebuilt after some unspoken apocalypse, protected from the dangers of the savage lands outside the walls. The plotting takes us through a familiar evolution of a character with a hidden gift who has to learn to get past preconceptions and take a stand for her convictions, but director Neil Burger and his crew fail to create a cast or a world around her to give the stakes any sense of power. That’s something that The Hunger Games gets right. The filmmakers have another film on the way to get it right so maybe they can take a cue.

Miles Teller is an angry Dauntless apprentice who feeds on the power and the violence of the competitive training environment, Maggie Q is the fringe artist who meets the rent by running the aptitude tests (think the Harry Potter sorting hat with sci-fi trappings), Ashley Judd and Tony Goldwyn are this society’s equivalent of the selfless, liberal, post-hippy parents who Tris thinks she’s rebelling against with the Dauntless immersion, and Kate Winslet gets to go all supervillain as the coldly calculating leader of the Erudite coup.

On Blu-ray and DVD with two commentary tracks (one by director Neil Burger, one by producers Douglas Wick and Lucy Fisher) and deleted scenes, plus an UltraViolet digital copy of the film. Exclusive to the Blu-ray release are two featurettes, “Bringing Divergent to Life” and “Faction Before Blood,” plus bonus a DVD.

More New Releases on Blu-ray, DVD, Digital and VOD at Cinephiled

‘Divergent’ battles to become next ‘Hunger Games’-style hit series

It’s easy to compare “Divergent,” which opens Friday, to “The Hunger Games.” Both are dramatic visions of bleak futures where society is segregated into social groups and a strong young woman must fight for her very life against her world’s restrictions.

But can “Divergent,” based on a best-selling three-book series by Veronica Roth, soar to “Hunger Games” levels at the box office?

Thanks to the runaway successes of “Hunger Games” and the “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” films, every studio is desperate to establish its own young-adult franchise. Emphasis on the desperation. The failures outnumber the hits: “Beautiful Creatures” and “Ender’s Game” failed to connect, “The Chronicles of Narnia” fantasies and “Percy Jackson” young gods adventures fell off, and “The Mortal Instruments” is in development limbo.

Theo James and Shailene Woodley

To succeed where others failed, “Divergent” needs to avoid the pitfalls of the weaker franchises and learn the right lessons from the success stories.

Offer a strong, empowered female lead
Give credit to this new wave of YA franchises for the proliferation of roles for young women in dynamic, heroic roles. The superhero films haven’t offered much in the way superheroines yet (there’s Black Widow and …. um …). But “Harry Potter” gave us Hermione and “The Hunger Games” transformed steely survivor Katniss into a ferocious warrior. Tris, the young woman looking for her identity among the Dauntless soldiers of the “Divergent” world, is courageous, committed, and her own woman in a culture of conformity. She’d make Katniss proud.

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