The template seems simple enough: adapt a best-selling dystopian YA book with a dynamic female heroine, sit back, and start counting the moolah. Lionsgate is wisely trying to replicate the billion-dollar success of Jennifer Lawrence and The Hunger Games with Divergent, another potential franchise based on Veronica Roth’s trilogy and starring Shailene Woodley.
Of course, Woodley’s Tris isn’t the first girl-power character to follow Katniss’ footsteps — but she is the most promising after disappointments like Mortal Instruments and The Host. In Roth’s novels, Tris is the rare renaissance gal from a rigidly divided skill-based society that sorts citizens into five camps based on personality traits, like bravery (Dauntless), intelligence (Erudite), or selflessness (Abnegnation). Tris, who was raised Abnegnation, qualifies for three camps, making her a “divergent” threat to the status quo, represented by Kate Winslet’s icy Erudite leader. “The future belongs to those who know where they belong,” she tells the nervous teens at their Choosing Ceremony.
Fortunately, Tris has some help from Dauntless, which is the daredevil group she surprisingly elects to join. Theo James plays her smoldering and mysterious teacher, Four, whom EW’s Owen Gleiberman compares to an “unflaky James Franco with a surly hint of T-shirt-era Brando; he brings off the neat trick of playing a hardass who is also a heartthrob.”
Divergent has been a great hope, especially since it nabbed the critically acclaimed Woodley (The Descendants) for the lead role and has Winslet’s glower-power to keep things interesting. The most passionate fans rushed out to see Thursday-night screenings — grossing an impressive $4.9 million overnight — and a sequel, Insurgent, is already on the way. But is Divergent any good? Click below to see what Gleiberman and other critics are saying about the movie before you head to the theater.
Owen Gleiberman (Entertainment Weekly)
“Tris spends most of the film learning to leap and toss knives and risk death like a badass, and 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 Woodley plays her, an intensely vulnerable and relatable character.”
Liam Lacey (Toronto Globe and Mail)
“Woodley is a subtle actress with a shy radiance, and her diminutive physical presence is decidedly different from Jennifer Lawrence’s lusty glamazon in The Hunger Games. The contrast could be useful, though the dark, oppressive movie around Woodley drags her down…”
Michael O’Sullivan (Washington Post)
“[Director Neil] Burger has crafted a popcorn flick that’s leaner, more propulsive and more satisfying than the bestseller that inspired it. Screenwriters Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor have cut the fat, picked up the pace and sharpened Roth’s themes…”
Kimberley Jones (Austin Chronicle)
“It doesn’t take too long for the eager viewer to deflate: This is not a first-rate production. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s a relief. It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact moment when the tide turns, but: There are giggles.”
Manohla Dargis (New York Times) ▼
“Yea for Divergent, a dumb movie that I hope makes major bank if only as a reminder of the obvious: Women can drive big and little movies, including the pricey franchises that fire up the box office and the culture.”
Andrew Barker (Variety)
“Burger seems so concerned with laying franchise groundwork that he neglects to create an engaging standalone movie, and Divergent’s uncertain sense of setting, bloated plot, drab visual style and solid yet underwhelming lead turns … don’t necessarily make the best case for series newcomers.”
David Edelstein (New York — Vulture)
“Veronica Roth reserves her loathing for the Erudites, who spend their days in intellectual pursuit. She appears to be one in a long line of religious conservatives … who think there’s nothing more dangerous than intellectualism…”
Ty Burr (Boston Globe)
“If some people had problems with the kids-killing-kids plotline of Hunger Games, I don’t know what they’ll make of the scenes in Divergent in which girls and boys beat each other to a bloody pulp in order to get a good score.”
Mick LaSalle (San Francisco Chronicle)
“It feels more like something imagined for the sake of making teenagers feel better about not making cheerleader. … And yet, once the movie’s limits are recognized, Divergent can be appreciated on its own modest terms…”
Claudia Puig (USA Today)
“For a film about non-conformity, it adheres to the playbook rather slavishly. … Despite two strong lead performances and a welcome dose of female empowerment, this somber tale feels too familiar and formulaic.”
Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times)
“It’s an acceptable, play-it-safe version of the first volume in the hugely popular [trilogy] … but [Woodley and James’] engaging performances are money in the bank and make it clear why playing it safe was the smart way to go.”
Overall Metacritic rating (1-100): 49
Rotten Tomatoes: 42 percent
Length: 140 minutes
Director: Neil Burger
Starring Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet.