"Divergent," based on the novel by Veronica Roth, is now playing in theaters. Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman filed the following report for NY1.
"Divergent," the movie version of Veronica Roth's smash-hit young adult novel, is about a girl named Tris who spends most of the film learning to leap and toss knives and risk death like a badass. When she puts those skills to the test, battling her society's corrupt leaders, there's no doubt that she's a superior, market-tested YA role model, like Katniss in "The Hunger Games." But she is also, as played by Shailene Woodley, something better: an intensely vulnerable and relatable character.
Tris, who we meet as Beatrice, has been raised as a member of Abnegnation, one of five factions in a walled dystopia that was formerly Chicago and still looks, strikingly, like a semi-ruined concrete-playground version of that city. The members of Abnegnation dress in plain tan frocks, like the Amish, and they're all about puritan self-sacrifice. The other four factions, which anyone can join, are Erudite, Candor, Amity and Dauntless, the fearless tattooed warrior jocks in black - in other words, the sect anyone cool would want to be part of.
Woodley, through the delicate power of her acting, does something compelling. She shows you what a prickly, fearful, yet daring personality looks like when it's nestled deep within the kind of modest, bookish girl who shouldn't even like gym class. Tris chooses to become part of Dauntless, not because she has any special athletic skill but because it's her nature to go for broke.
The second half of "Divergent" goes on a bit, with too many rote combat scenes. Yet the rise-of-the-savior-heroine plot feels less rigidly ritualistic than it does in "The Hunger Games" films. It helps that the drill sergeant is played by Theo James, who's like an unflaky James Franco with a surly hint of T-shirt-era Brando.
"Divergent" is a good formula flick, no more and no less, but it's nice to see the launch of a dystopian franchise in which individuality, as embodied by Shailene Woodley, looks like it could mean something beyond hiply propping up the status quo.