A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
"Divergent" is all about identity—about searching your soul and determining who you are and how you fit in as you emerge from adolescence to adulthood. So it's all too appropriate that the film version of the wildly popular young adult novel struggles a bit to assert itself as it seeks to appeal to the widest possible audience.
It's the conundrum so many of these types of books face as they become pop-culture juggernauts and film franchises: which elements to keep to please the fervent fans and which to toss in the name of maintaining a lean, speedy narrative? The "Harry Potter" and "Hunger Games" movies—which "Divergent" resembles in myriad ways—were mostly successful in finding that balance.
In bringing the first novel of Veronica Roth's best-selling trilogy to the screen, director Neil Burger ("Limitless") and screenwriters Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor have included key moments and images but tweaked others to streamline the mythology and move the story along. The results can be thrilling but the film as a whole feels simultaneously overlong and emotionally truncated.
Folks who've read the book will probably be satisfied with the results, while those unfamiliar with the source material may dismiss it as derivative and inferior. (Stop me if you think you've heard this one before: "Divergent" takes place in a rigidly structured, dystopian future where one extraordinary girl will serve either as its destroyer or its savior.) But the performances—namely from stars Shailene Woodley and Theo James and Kate Winslet in a juicy supporting role—always make the movie watchable and often quite engaging.