Wednesday March 19, 2014 2:39 PM
It’s been almost a month since another female young adult fantasy/sci-fi book series was adapted into a big-budget movie with hopes of sparking a massive franchise and making Twilight and Hunger Games money only to tank at the box-office because it got lost in the shuffle of other identical efforts to cash-in on a craze.
The YA franchise wannabe du jour is Divergent, allegedly adapted from the first book of a trilogy by Veronica Roth. I write "allegedly" because I don’t think she’s a real person. Neither is Suzanne Collins, Stephenie Meyer and their countless other clones. Of course you’ll see pictures of them if you Googled their names but I believe we must be in for a long con by the YA publishing industry.
There’s no way that different individuals who don’t share a Borg-like hive-mind would trudge out the exact same story over and over again without adding at least a bit of personality. No, these books must be constructed from a tried-and-true template and minimally tweaked by focus groups and a committee of ghostwriters who were brainwashed Manchurian Candidate-style to write the same crap over and over again.
At this point, the powers that be are so certain that they can separate your 12-year-old daughter from her allowance without even the minimal amount of effort that when it came time for Divergent, they didn’t even touch the story template and released it as-is.
A dystopian society a hundred years after "The Big War" where everyone’s forced into predictable groups and a girl who doesn’t fit in with the squares is meant to be the basic template these franchises are meant to build an actual story out of, not the actual story itself! "Suzanne Collins" took that template and added Battle Royale and The Running Man to it. "She" at least attempted to add some jelly to that dried toast. With Divergent, all we get is the toast.
All of these franchises are about seemingly normal girls finding out that they don’t fit into society with their special powers that are dangerous to the status quo. Young girls, heck, people in general like to feel that they’re special and unique and that’s why millions of them are expected to buy tickets to the same stories that assures each one of them that they’re as special as they believe they are. However, the approach is not supposed to be so obvious.
If the profound subtlety of The Hunger Games went over your head, then Divergent is just right for you. The age-old premise of an individualist fighting against the hive-minded dystopian system has rarely been handled with such a mind-numbingly mediocre and safe execution.
Tris (Shailene Woodley) is the perfect "slightly too attractive to be plain" protagonist in a futuristic society where individuality is outlawed for the common good and people are divided into separate factions that each have specific duties. In the story, the factions are given some of dem hard-to-pronounciate, college-edumacated names in order to pump the project with some literary credibility but to make things easier, I’ll just call them The Hippies, The A-Holes, The Douchebags and The Uptights.
Tris is one of the Uptights, who think they’re selfless and their flatulence smell like roses. They also rule the overall society. After she takes a test to find out which group she should belong to for the rest of her life, gasp, she realizes that she’s a Divergent, someone who possesses the qualities of various factions just like, you know, 99.9% of real people.
Anyway, apparently being a Divergent in this tightly-structured world is a big no-no (Someone actually utters the line "You don’t conform") so Tris has to keep her result a secret as she decides, for no apparent reason, to join The Douchebags, a band of reckless youth straight out of a Hot Topic catalogue who are supposed to be the protectors of society yet act like a mix between the Jackass guys and those extreme sport idiots from the first Harold and Kumar movie.
What follows is an excruciatingly bland hour-long episode of "Teen Dystopian Murder School Academy" as Tris meets the obligatory token best friend of color (Zoe Kravitz), a bully straight from the Draco Malfoy school of uninspired writing (Miles Teller) and a hottie instructor she butts heads with but totally wants to bone before the third act (Theo James).
As Tris makes it up the ranks among The Douchebags, the leader of The A-holes, fascist lawyer-types who love the crap out of conformism, takes notice of her unique, shall we say, Divergent-like skills. This leader is played by the great Kate Winslet with so little depth due to so little screen time that it looks like they could only afford her on the set for one afternoon. Tris manages to keep her skills a secret until she learns of an evil conspiracy by The A-holes that can put her family in danger.
Of course every single beat from this point on will be predictable to you if you’re one of those people who have ever seen at least one YA adaptation, or any other movie for that matter. Even with all of my ridiculing at the expense of this obvious cash-grab (Which comes from Lionsgate, the studio that holds a monopoly on YA franchises), there’s nothing particularly offensive or objectionable in Divergent.
It will probably provide enough empty distraction for tweens over the weekend. Yet its persistent lack of personality is what makes me mad about wasting time on it. Say what you will about the Twilight franchise, at least those films had the courtesy of being laughably awful at every turn.
In the end, Divergent itself doesn’t "divert" at all from the norm. See what I did there? I played with the word… Ah, nevermind.