Divergent

Rating:

ROADS IN A WOOD

Main Cast: Shailene Woodley, Theo James

Director: Neil Burger

A number of you lovely people out there in the dark have sent cards and telegrams asking me to tell more about my little accident which resulted in my being trapped like Han Solo in carbonite for several years.  There’s really not much to tell.  Every year, I make a pilgrimage to Acme Cryogenics in Irvine to visit Walt Disney, bearing a single carrot and a glass of diet Dr. Pepper.  I leave them at the foot of his vault, do a few buck and wings and depart.  Walt was very helpful to me in my early career.  His casting of me as Mr. Bluebird in Song of the South really jump started things for me at a particularly low time in my life.  This year, however, as I was leaving the building, there was some sort of unexpected leak in the liquid nitrogen hosing and I was caught in the back draft.  When the technicians realized what was happening, they quickly put me into a cryogenic coma to protect me.  It took some years to get me rethawed as apparently Blue Cross did not pay for the procedure and Normy had to wait until Obamacare kicked in to have the procedure covered.

I have a strong inclination to sue the Disney Corporation for damages.  Not only are they the apparent owners of Acme Cryogenics, but there are also a few key points in their new film Frozen that appear to be lifted from my accident including a frozen young lady, a carrot and my closing words to Walt as I leave every year. “For the first time and forever, I’ll never let it go…”  I cannot believe that these similarities are pure coincidence.  I shall put Fajer and Hellmann, my attorneys, on it straight away.  I feel they owe me for the years of lost earning potential if nothing else and Chateau Maine is not the cheapest home to maintain what with the palatial cathedral ceilings and the new wing devoted to Normy’s burgeoning collection of antique barrel organs.

Theo James by Mingle Media TV

Theo James at the premiere of Divergent in 2014

Speaking of Normy, we ventured out to the local Cineplex this week and caught the new film, Divergent, the latest entry in the current cycle of film adaptations of dystopian youth novels.  It is based on the novel of the same name by Veronica Roth which has been flying off bookstore shelves the last few years.  The setting is once again post-apocalyptic America, only this time in a very recognizable Chicago, introduced by a lovely aerial shot from over Lake Michigan and up the Chicago River showing all the familiar landmarks in a state of decay.  But wait, somewhere around Wicker Park, there are signs of life and we descend into a busy market square full of people.  Much of the city has been abandoned but there is technology still available, apparently powered by an endless supply of wind turbines attached to all of the buildings.  The L still runs as well and there seem to be occasional cars but where the gas comes from is not explained.

We soon learn that society is split into five factions named after SAT vocabulary words.  Abnegation, the selfless who dress like Mennonites and who run the government; Erudite who wear blue Gaultier influenced fashions and who control science and learning; Dauntless, the brave warriors and protectors who dress like the crowd at Sturgis; Candor, the lawyer class who look like extras from a sixties mod extravaganza in black and white; and Amity, the hippy farmers who all look stoned out of their minds in earth tones.  Our heroine, Beatrice (Shailene Woodley), is from Abnegation and believes that she is on the path to a selfless life but questions her suitability.  Fortunately, she has turned sixteen and, in a rite of passage, she needs to select a faction to which she should belong and, if she feels it is appropriate, she can leave her quiet Abnegation life for another.  She has a brother, Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and quiet placid parents (Ashley Judd and Tony Goldwyn) but, when she takes a simulation aptitude test as part of her schooling to determine which faction she should pledge, her results are inconclusive.  Her mind is too free.  She is, as this society terms it, divergent.  At the choosing ceremony, rather than being safe and choosing Abnegation, she chooses Dauntless and soon finds herself jumping off buildings and learning the finer points of kick boxing under the watchful eyes of her two instructors, the soulful Four (Theo James) and the nasty Eric (Jai Courtney).

Thus begins a story of strength, female empowerment, and the uncovering of plots and counterplots as other factions try to wrest power from Abnegation. Much of this is tied up in the person of the evil Jeanine (Kate Winslet in the sort of wicked ice queen part that Nicole Kidman usually plays) who is the head of the Erudite faction and up to no good.  Beatrice, or Tris as she shortens it to for her Dauntless persona, acquires a wise cracking side kick (Zoe Kravitz), finds love, discovers surprising things about her family, and ends up saving the day, but not without loss, sacrifice, and an open ended ending suggesting sequels to come.  (There are two additional novels.)

Shailene Woodley by Mingle Media TV

Shailene Woodley at the 2014 premiere of Divergent

I was quite taken by the look of the film with its sweeping vistas of a ruined, but still vibrant Chicago and a zip line ride from the top of the Hancock tower to the far end of the miracle mile is stunning.  The smaller scenes are more elementary with some clunky visual shorthand to tell us what environment we are in. (Abnegation all live in identical grey cinderblock houses, Dauntless seem to live in a mosh pit from a mid-80s rock concert).  Director Neil Burger (The Illusionist) keeps things moving and even with a lengthy two and a quarter plus hour running time, it never drags.  He makes the usual mistake of trying to cram everything from the novel into the film and, because of this, the storytelling occasionally becomes somewhat muddled.  Secondary characters, in particular, get short shrift as we do not get enough screen time with them to sort them out.  The majority of Tris’s initiate class are not given the time to establish themselves so when there is a suicide, we feel nothing as we really don’t know who it is.  There is one large pasty faced boy who appears in shot after shot with Tris who never opens his mouth so I have no clue if he’s supposed to be important or not.  The actor better have a few words with his agent.

The central performances are decent.  Shailene Woodley, a name and face new to me but who has been on a popular young people’s show called The Secret Life of the American Teenager, captures Tris’s strength and vulnerabilities.  We can believe her ability to resist conforming to her societal norms and exhilarate with her as she learns new skills and feats of daring do.  Theo James, as the male lead, is easy on the eyes and has a lovely shirtless scene showing off tattoos that are essential to the plot.  He doesn’t have a lot of range but then the story doesn’t ask much of him other than to be the perfect man for our heroine.  Jai Courtney, as the obvious villain of the piece, over emotes but does get in some great line readings.  Ashley Judd and Tony Goldwyn are old pros but not given a whole lot to do.  I trust they were paid well.

The film is good mindless fun, worth matinee prices and will lose something on the small screen when the panoramas are all reduced to twenty three inches or less.  It’s suitable for older mature children and teens but not for the youngsters.

Blood sizzling.  Train leaping.  Hamburger novice.  Gratuitous crowd surfing. Railing dangle.  Ferris wheel climbing.  Gratuitous Maggie Q. Mind control sera.  Evil plot foiling. Raven tattoo.

To learn more about Mrs. Norman Maine, see our introduction here and read her back catalog of reviews here.

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