Review: “Divergent”

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A “Divergent” review needs perspective, a measuring stick, and it has one in “The Hunger Games” series. Veronica Roth’s book-to-movie blockbuster will be compared to “The Hunger Games” forever, but it shouldn’t be compared to Catching Fire just yet. That would be unfair. Instead, it’s important to remember that the first film of “The Hunger Games” trilogy had holes in it and wasn’t perfect.

Part of these criticisms is how well the writers converted the book to the big screen, but I haven’t read “Divergent.” I heard the ending is a little different — something about a hard drive. I took issue with what I thought was multiple endings. This could’ve ended after Tris (Shailene Woodley) completes her final test to become Dauntless and I would’ve liked the movie. The problem was, I kept breaking my own rule. I was looking for a cliffhanger like the one at the end of Catching Fire because I loved it. Everything after Tris’ test felt a little rushed, but the knife-in-the-hand move was awesome.

Tris’ first test looked a lot like “The Hunger Games,” specifically the birds, but “Divergent” is Woodley’s engine to becoming a star. She surprised me. My lasting memory of Woodley’s acting career was Amy, the annoying and naive pregnant teen in “The Secret Life of the American Teenager.” And it isn’t a happy memory. But Woodley grew up and took Tris seriously.

Her upcoming lead role in “The Fault in Our Stars” is more intriguing now. Jennifer Lawrence won an Oscar between Hunger Games, for “Silver Linings Playbook.” How will Woodley bridge the gap? More importantly, what will Woodley do for Tris next? Lawrence took Katniss to another level — actually, two or three levels — but not just because she was a bigger, decorated star.

“Divergent” was fun. The capture the flag sequence and zip line paid off with big fireworks. Dystopian Chicago was vast and impressive. I’m told Four (Theo James) was as hot as advertised. Christina (Zoe Kravitz) and Natalie (Ashley Judd) seemed like miscasts. I’m not sure where the second film goes from here, only because I didn’t read the books. This film ended like a one-and-done with stray parts (Dauntless seeking the Divergents) trying to catch up.

The film franchise has room to grow, just like “The Hunger Games,” which got a lot better with its second installment. Woodley shows a lot of promise, some of it realized, as Tris and as “The Hunger Games” showed, you need an electric lead to jolt the series forward.

“Divergent”: ★★1/2

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