Monday, March 24, 2014

Vernal Viewing: Divergent

We now live in a cinematic age of comic book and Young Adult fiction adaptations, why?  Because they're a readily available source material that have name brand recognition to at least one segment of society and studios are just looking for that next hit franchise a la Iron Man, Twilight, Harry Potter and Batman.  So far, the YA market has seen it's hits like Twilight and Hunger Games as well as it's misses including Mortal Instruments, The Host and Ender's Game.  This past weekend, new challenger to the throne, Divergent, opened at # 1 with a healthy $56 million take and a solid A cinemascore.  A sequel has already been greenlit but it's being helmed by the guy who did RIPD so we might be in trouble...While I can't wrap my head around why people like Hunger Games, I did enjoy the crap out of Ender's GameDivergent fell in-between for me.  The story of a future Chicago where a wall protects the survivors of a great war and the population is split into five factions based on a test and the subject's choice whether they're kind, smart, honest, fearless, etc.

Tris (Shailene Woodley) is a young woman who has parents in the caring clan (they all have names but my memory isn't that good) that run the government.  Since she was a young girl she's dreamed of joining the Dauntless aka the wild boys who run free and protect the city.  Her test results show she's Divergent, which means she isn't just one trait, she's all of them and better.  But she has to hide it or risk being hunted down and killed as being different is a threat to the society leaders run by Titanic's Kate Winslet.  On the day of faction choosing, Tris goes against her parents' wishes and joins Dauntless, where she meets James Franco's athletic older brother Four (Theo James), who along with Eric (Jai Courtney), train all the new recruits and select how and where they'll end up serving.  Tris pushes herself physically and mentally to be accepted into the clan but her Divergent powers begin to show themselves in later phases of mental training.  Soon, all heck breaks loose as Winslet plans a coup d'état to overthrow the current governing body, drugs the Dauntless to become her personal army and begins her quest to wipe out any objectors.  Tris, with the help of her parents and a few rebels, fight back and save the day.

All in, Divergent has a lot going for it.  Director Neil Burger sets up the world so it seems less flimsy than The Hunger Games' shaky foundation of opulence and poverty taken straight from a text book.  There's a low watt cast of familiar faces throughout like Maggie Q, Jai Courtney, Ray Stevenson, Mekhi Phifer and Ashley Judd to support the young and talented Woodley.  There's a lot to do in the movie and much of it includes setting up the world, Tris' training, developing her relationship with Four, exploring her Divergent-ness so by the time the shit starts to hit the fan, you're wondering how much longer it's going to go on.  Like a John Woo movie or Return of the King, Divergent could have ended at least 5 times but kept going.  What made it more interesting for me was that Tris actually does stuff in the movie, she goes against her family, goes outside her comfort zone and joins the clan she's always wanted to be part of.  She won't be left behind and is always moving, not just reacting or getting dragged along like Mystique was in Hunger Games.  Film universe wise, I hope the filmmakers and writers sent a thank you note to the crews of Starship Troopers and Equilibrium because there's a lot from both of those movies here.  You can literally count off the Troopers similarities:  co-ed showers, a remark about statistically hitting a target and then a whole knife throwing/hand incident.

On the negative side, Miles Teller and Jai Courtney's unimpressive performances basically spell doom for their future portrayals of Mr. Fantastic in the Fantastic Four reboot and Kyle Reese in the new Terminator series.  Teller plays a bully here but seriously, who wouldn't slap that weak chinned, K.D. Lang lookalike in the face and send him crying?  Then Courtney, from Die Hard 5 fame, continues his hard man/brute routine only this time with a Macklemore haircut.  Kyle Reese is a sensitive action hero who gave up his life for love.  I just don't see Courtney being able to pull that off.  Oh and also, for future Chicago, there's two Asians and I don't think any Latinos.  This was strictly a white people party with a few black guests future.  Most of Tris' contemporaries are young, white males with brown hair, so when one of them is revealed to be a threat, you can't even tell which one he is.

Getting the early buzz going:

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