Movie review

'Divergent' is a bold start to new series

In the futuristic world of "Divergent," the notion that you can do anything, be anyone and go anywhere does not apply.

At age 16, Chicagoans are forced to pick their lifelong path from one of five "factions" or groups: Abnegation, whose members are selfless; Amity, peaceful; Candor, honest; Erudite, intelligent; and Dauntless, brave.


Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet.

Rating: PG-13 for intense violence and action, thematic elements and some sensuality.

Regret your choice and you're out of luck; there are no mulligans. This isn't like changing tracks or majors or colleges or enjoying the modern luxury of a gap year.

This is your life -- for life.

That is the backdrop for teenager Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley), who lives with her parents (Tony Goldwyn and Ashley Judd), part of the Abnegation faction, meaning they dress in gray, drab clothing, wear plain hairstyles and adopt unassuming demeanors so they can focus on others.

When Beatrice undergoes a mandatory aptitude test to determine her faction, she shows equal leanings for Abnegation, Dauntless and Erudite, which makes her "Divergent" and extremely dangerous in some unspecified way.

She is warned not to tell anyone, including her family, and when it comes time to pick her faction, she chooses Dauntless to the surprise of everyone. Her brother (Ansel Elgort) opts for Erudite, and Beatrice sees how the other one-fifth live, finds she has to literally fight for a spot in Dauntless and is unnerved by Four (Theo James), the guarded, tough teacher of the initiates.

"Divergent" follows Beatrice -- now calling herself Tris -- as she discovers just how perilous her secret label is, experiences her deepest fears thanks to drug-induced hallucinations and uncovers a plan that endangers her and those she loves.

The carefully constructed society is about to be upended by the darker side of some of the factions in this movie naturally being compared to the "Twilight" and "The Hunger Games" franchises.

It, too, flies a young adult flag. It is based on the first of three best-selling novels by Veronica Roth, and its ending is designed as a "Stay tuned" for the next installment, "Insurgent." To be followed by "Allegiant."

Bottom line: Its evolving heroine is far more interesting at this stage than Bella Swan was, but Katniss Everdeen arrived as a strong, loyal, resourceful, rebellious and wily teen archer in "The Hunger Games." Plus, it's hard to compare walled, war-ravaged Chicago with the Capitol and its privileged, pampered, over-the-top denizens.

At roughly 143 minutes, it is almost exactly as long as "The Hunger Games" and, like that Jennifer Lawrence showcase, it benefits from a talented young actress at its heart.

Early in the movie, there's one scene that demonstrates how good Ms. Woodley ("The Descendants," "The Spectacular Now") is. Newly pledged to Dauntless and about to climb to the train tracks and jump aboard as the cars speed by, a look of fear and quiet delight flutters across her face.

Equally impressive is Mr. James as Four, a mysterious, magnetic figure who thaws and reveals himself as the story unfolds, while Mr. Elgort doesn't get as much screen time as he will in "The Fault in Our Stars" with Ms. Woodley. Kate Winslet turns down the temperature and proves a chilly, diabolical villain this time around.

"Divergent," to its benefit, gives moviegoers something to chew on. What happens when teens, especially, are stereotyped and defined by a single characteristic? Does anyone really fit into such a narrow slot, or are we all divergent?

Can fears and human nature be controlled to such great extents? And is there room for yet another YA franchise, even one that is very faithful to the text, at the multiplex?

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