It feels like The Hunger Games light, but it’s better than the screen-version of The Mortal Instruments.
In a futuristic, post-something-or-another world that looks like Chicago-After-People, skyscrapers that are two-centuries old inexplicably don’t fall down to crush the Five Factions: Abnegation, the selfless; Amity, the peaceful; Candor, the honest; Dauntless, the brave; and Erudite, the intellectual. Citizens are given an aptitude test at the age of sixteen in the form of a dreamlike simulation to help them determine where they belong. They may choose to stay where they were born or move to another faction, but if they fail to measure up, they become “factionless,” vagrants condemned to the city ruins (nice, huh?) Beatrice “Tris” Prior’s (Shailene Woodley) aptitude test flags her as “divergent,” capable of being in several factions – a frowned-upon condition that jeopardizes the entire system. When she chooses Dauntless over her birthplace of Abnegation, she’s launched on a journey that puts herself, her family, and the entire 23rd century in danger before Buck Rogers can get back to save it.
The Walled City formerly known as Chicago has some issues, mostly the future-tech and weird secrecy. Sorry; this world couldn’t survive even a decade like this (let alone two-hundred years), but it does make for an interesting backdrop for our heroine to be brave and such. Of course, there’s a conspiracy afoot, and Tris is right in the middle of it trying to survive, excel, and find her place in Neo-Chicago. What’s weird is that Tris always seems to be in danger of something, but everyone outside of her little circle (read: the extras in the background) all seem kind of oblivious to what’s going on in a way that undermines suspension of disbelief. Pay attention, guys; the caterers will still be there after the scene.
Shailene Woodley is a decent actor, demonstrating both physical and emotional prowess onscreen. You can’t help but be drawn to her plight; she’s the most developed character in the story. Coming in second is Theo James as the mysterious Four, and it’s a good thing he likes Tris because he’s prettier than she is. The only other actors worth mentioning is Kate Winslet as Jeanine (…as the villain! So, yeah, she’s still a one-dimensional character, but c’mon: it’s Kate Winslet!) and Ashley Judd as “Mom” (who keeps vital secrets and smiles…a lot).
In the same way Jennifer Lawrence elevates The Hunger Games with her portrayal of Katniss alone, Ms. Woodley sells the role of Tris but unfortunately has far less to work with. It’s the world itself that seems short-changed; with less going on, it doesn’t seem people do anything except eat, sleep, and work – basically like all those planets they visited on the original “Star Trek” series. All the “selfless” folks wear the same design clothes in the same color, as if they were bought at Poor-Mart; wouldn’t they make their own clothes? Sure, Chicago looks awesome partially reclaimed by Mother Nature; the same shadowy landscapers who keep the lawns trimmed on “The Walking Dead” make sure preppy kids with cool clothes have plenty of garden-like apocalyptic wasteland to wonder through as they contemplate their five-faction lives.
(a two skull recommendation out of four)