Posted by Joel Copling on March 21, 2014

In J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" series (specifically, the books, in which the idea is developed on a deeper level), the only intiation process by which new wizards are classified is the Sorting ceremony at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The four houses (Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin) typify roughly four traits in each new student (bravery, loyalty, intelligence, and cunning, respectively), but the series' overall message in this respect was that personal choice can influence the Sorting Hat's decision of where to put a student. It was a progressive idea, this claim of one's true identity, personified in its titular hero's insistence that he's not a Slytherin (into which his greatest nemesis was Sorted all those years ago), and it is a mindset that seems far too radical for the likes of Beatrice (Shailene Woodley), another female protagonist of another young-adult franchise; this one is "Divergent," based on the first part of a trilogy by Veronica Roth.

Like the students central to Rowling's series, civilians in "Divergent" are divided into factions. Beatrice and her parents (Tony Goldwyn and Ashley Judd) and brother (Ansel Elgort) are in Abnegation, which help those in need of it. The others are a fascistic warrior tribe known as Dauntless (which really should be called Dauntlessness), an intelligentsia known as Erudite (which really should be called Erudition), the filterlessly honest Candor, and the peace-loving Amity. But there is a test to determine one's place, a fear-challenging examination that lands Beatrice in all five of the factions (Whatever one's result, by the way, he or she can choose another faction, which seems far more intrusive to this natural order than anything else in it). It is a phenomenon known as being "divergent," which "threatens the system," according to Erudite leader Jeanine (Kate Winslet, wasted in a nothing role). Beatrice joins Dauntless(ness), re-names herself "Tris," and now must keep one eye over her shoulder at all times. If Erudite find out what she truly is, they will stop at nothing to remove her from the equation, much like they are already attempting to remove human nature.

"Divergent" borrows not only from "Harry Potter" but also from Suzanne Collins' "The Hunger Games," as it is set in a dystopian society with an oddball practice as its central narrative drive. Not to mention that the entire middle portion is a nearly endless series of training exercises for Tris under the tutelage of the prickly Four (Theo James), with whom Tris inevitably becomes romantically involved. But thematically and politically, "Divergent" is much murkier, buying into the ideals of the system while trying to sell the opposite as truth: Whatever the third act might have to say about trusting one's own instincts, it is a jarring shift (It's not even a whole shift) from Tris' uncertainty about fitting in to a faction and feeling of disorientation following the initial aptitude test. She is also rather waif-like, which doesn't inspire much confidence in her status as The One Who Will Bring Balance to the System, which she might as well be labeled (which means we must now enter "Star Wars," "The Lord of the Rings," and "The Matrix" in the collective from which this series starter derives its elements). In fact, as far as the factions themselves go, Roth, adapting screenwriters Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor, and director Neil Burger have forgotten "Derivatively," a sixth faction into which "Divergent" would fall. (It's also an adverb, because at this point, why not.)

Film Information

Shailene Woodley (Tris), Theo James (Four), Kate Winslet (Jeanine), Miles Teller (Peter), Jai Courtney (Eric), Zoe Kravitz (Christina), Ansel Elgort (Caleb), Ray Stevenson (Marcus), Ashley Judd (Natalie), Tony Goldwyn (Andrew), Maggie Q (Tori), Christian Madsen (Al), Casimere Jollette (Claire Sutron), Mekhi Phifer (Max), Ben Lloyd-Hughes (Will), Justine Wachsberger (Lauren), Amy Newbold (Molly), Ben Lamb (Edward).

Directed by Neil Burger and written by Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor, based on the novel by Veronica Roth.

Rated PG-13 (intense violence/action, thematic elements, sensuality).

139 minutes.

Released on March 21, 2014.