There are some good elements in play in “Divergent,” the latest adaptation of a series of popular young adult novels. It’s a film that comes close to capturing the same magic of “Hunger Games,” but it falls short of achieving the same success as that franchise.
“Divergent” tells the story of a futuristic society where everyone is divided into five factions – with separate traits such as smart, adventurous, kind, giving and honest to a fault.
A rite of passage for the teens in this society is to make a public declaration on whether they will remain in their own faction or join another one. The decision is made easier after taking a test that suggests the faction with which you belong.
For Tris (Shailene Woodley), this event causes great concern. It’s concern that grows greater after she is tested and it’s discovered she is divergent – one who doesn’t fit into any group and is deemed a threat to this new society.
Tris tries to fit in, but when she uncovers a secret plot to kill all divergents she becomes an unlikely hero leading a rebellion against the people who are trying to eliminate her and those like her.
Woodley proves to be a capable female heroine. Already opening eyes in recent films “The Descendants” and “The Spectacular Now,” the young actress shows a more tough, physical side that hasn’t been on display in recent films.
She’s a commanding presence who is easy to root for, even when the film bogs down under the weight of all the plot threads.
The screenplay throws a lot at the audience (especially those not familiar with the books), and there is a lot to process in the two-plus hours of running time. It’s so much information that at times it slows down the film’s pace, with lots of lulls between several sequences that are impressive and entertaining and some themes that are intriguing but not fully explored.
A good thing with all the added story is it allows the film to get the most out of a good supporting cast, which includes Miles Teller (Woodley’s co-star in “The Spectacular Now”), Theo James and Kate Winslet (hamming it up a bit in the villain role).
While I can’t recommend “Divergent” to anyone not already fans of the novels, I will say I’m interested in where this series goes.
It’s a franchise that might not have gotten off on the right foot, but it has the ability to hit the ground running in future films – and perhaps improve on a wobbly start.
Also in theaters
While one series seems to be trending upward, the week’s other major release, “Muppets Most Wanted” (C), feels like it is headed in the other direction.
This follow-up to the delightful 2011 reboot is only a shadow of that film, with some mild fun but never the same manic energy that made the previous film such a joy.
This installment sees the Muppets agreeing to a European tour set up by their new agent Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais). Unbeknownst to the group, the tour is actually a front for a series of heists for Dominic and the world’s most dangerous amphibian Constantine, a Kermit the Frog look-a-like.
Constantine switches places with Kermit, leaving Kermit in jail and Constantine in charge of the Muppets.
As the evil plan gets closer to fruition, some of the Muppets start to suspect something is wrong and set out to make things right.
If you have seen one Muppet film, there are no real surprises here. Even the caper stuff has been done before in the early 1980s in “The Great Muppet Caper.” There are a lot of the same elements in play here, with Gervais and Tina Fey, as the head of the Siberian prison Kermit is sent to, heading a plethora of notable names making cameos.
There are plenty of musical numbers, some that work, and lots of sight gags and puns that miss the mark more than they connect.
What’s missing here is the energy that Jason Segel, who starred and co-wrote the 2011 revival, and Amy Adams brought to the franchise.
Segel’s love for the Muppets was obvious in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” and that love was carried over in his work in the previous film. Adams also added an element of charm that is missing here.
Without those two, this all feels like it is going through the motions – no matter how hard everyone tries to prove otherwise.
“Muppets Most Wanted” is rated PG for some mild action and is now playing at the Regal Greenwood Mall Stadium 10 and Highland Cinemas in Glasgow.