[Editor’s note: Erik Schlittner is a grown man, and we have no idea why he decided to watch this movie or write about it. It wasn’t at our behest, so any emotional trauma he suffered is his and his alone.]
The whole thing started with Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games. Comely youngsters fighting to the death in a post-apocalyptic world turned out to be a big money proposition. Some Hollywood executive took note of the moolah rolling in from The Hunger Games, and demanded another tomboyishly attractive actress in another elaborately contrived dystopia. And as surely as Nirvana spawned Bush, Candlebox, and a thousand even less worthy grunge bands, he Divergent series was born.
Divergent takes place in the very distant future. The rest of the world has apparently been destroyed, and all that’s left is the ruins of Chicago. The city is surrounded by a wall, outside of which lies the unknown. The population is organized into a strict caste system based on personality type. The castes are called Factions: Dauntless – thrill-seekers who act as police, Abnegation – doormats who help the poor, Amity – hippies who grow the food, Candor – loudmouths who don’t have an assigned function but probably run talk radio, and Erudite – smartypants who are the intellectual elite. All the citizens are raised in their parents’ faction, but when the kids come of age, they take a virtual reality Myers-Briggs test that tells them which Faction they are best suited for. Then there is a Choosing Ceremony where they pick the Faction in which they will spend the rest of their lives. Most choose to join the Faction they were raised in, or the Faction the test recommends. They are free to join other Factions though.
When Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) takes the test, something goes wrong. She doesn’t fit into any of the Factions. She is Divergent. This means trouble, and she has to keep her identity secret or all hell will break loose.
The main problem with the Divergent series is all the theft going on. The caste system is a variation of the one in Brave New World. The walled city with the unknown exterior comes from Logan’s Run, as does the coming of age ceremony. The reluctant hero who becomes The One by seeing through the virtual reality simulation is lifted wholesale from the Matrix series. And there is various tech stolen from Blade Runner and Star Wars. Which would all be fine, if Divergent did anything fun with it. The Hunger Games lifted costume and design elements from the Roman Empire, pre-revolution France, and reality television and did it with a wink, inviting viewers to draw a connection. There is nothing like that in the Divergent series, which is just a giant Hollywood machine that chews up everything in its path and craps out something ostensibly new.
The latest installment in the series starts out with a reign of terror/civil war situation, which doesn’t really follow from Divergent: Insurgent’s happy ending. Octavia Spencer is back, this time leading some sort of revolutionary faction called Allegiant. This also doesn’t follow from her appearance as an Earth Mother hippie chick in the previous movie. Tris and her band of buddies need to escape the Matrix escape from their former Faction-mates and get outside the wall. For some reason, they bring along Peter (Miles Teller), who betrayed them in the two previous movies. It doesn’t take a Divergent to figure out what happens next. Without spoiling the plot, it’s safe to say that large chunks of The Matrix and bits of Road Warrior: Fury Road are plundered for material.
Additionally, The casting of Naomi Watts strikes an odd note. As a young-looking 47, she’s really not old enough to be playing the mom of Theo James (age 31).
Given these issues, the Divergent movies are still fairly entertaining. There are enough well-directed action scenes interspersed with the exposition that it never becomes boring. Shailene Woodley’s empathetic performance just about carries the series. Sometimes it’s awkward to see talented actors like Kate Winslet and Jeff Daniels slumming in teen sci-fi, but hopefully they picked up nice big checks for their work.
The next movie in the series is called Divergent: Ascendant, and it’s out in June of 2017. That may not be exciting news, but The Hunger Games is over, and what else are you going to watch?