Sunday, May 11, 2014

'Divirgent' movie review

'Divirgent' is a 'Hunger Games' knock-off...and I say that from a very realistic place.  Even the Divirgent book came out three years after the first Hunger Games book.  I WAS going to review this film on its own merits, but since this movie has the same audience as Hunger Games, learning how much better Hunger Games was is relevant to how much this sucks.

Divirgent takes place in a future world in which the city of Chicago has been decimated by a war.  And you don't really know what's "out there" beyond the city of Chicago.  Like Hunger Games, it uses the backdrop of the future to set its own rules.  This is a different world than we live in.  There are five factions (in Chicago) that serve different purposes in this society, the intellectuals, the soldiers, the selfless ones (and two others) and they all have funny names.  There are some technologies that we don't have in real life, but other than that, the futuristic backdrop is just used to set its own rules.  No flying cars etc. (I just watched 'Fifth Element'.  None of that stuff here.)

Deleted scene Mary Jane Watson actress Shailene Woodley plays this girl who was born into the "selfless" faction (that is called something else).  She and her brother take an aptitude test that tell them which faction they would best fit into.  Her results are inconclusive, labeling her as (dumb dumb dumb) divirgent!  The lady who administers the test is nice enough to manually label her with the faction she grew up in, because we learn that divirgents are feared by the intellectuals who are trying to wrench power away from the selfless.  People who don't fit into society's (five) molds threaten the whole system and some have even been killed.  It is a much less interesting take on the "people don't understand me" teen angst sci-fi trope than the X-Men films.  All "being divirgent" does to this girl (and others who are) is that when the bad guys inject them with a mind-control serum, it doesn't work.  They can't fly or stop bullets or any Neo-like powers that would have improved this film.

Potential MJ doesn't like the selfless faction.  She wants to look at herself in the mirror (which is not allowed) because she's a teenage girl, so she joins the soldier faction.  "I wanna look at myself in the mirror, Mom!  I'm joining the Army!"  Yes, that is a major plot point.  Then, she jumps onto moving trains with her soldier buddies and gets a tattoo.  In 'The Hunger Games', Katniss is thrown into the "action" by a draft that she can't control.  The government picks her younger sister and she selflessly goes in her place (a commentary on young people being drafted into war).  Here, the rebellious (whiny) girl joins the Army because her parents are too strict.  Yes, she is sorry later, but the movie still glorifies teenage rebellion with the tattoo and the train jumping.  More "fight against the government" stuff (a beloved sci-fi trope) would have helped the plot (as it did with Hunger Games...and Star Wars...and The Matrix), but here is where Divirgent gets really sloppy.

As soon as the girl joins the Army faction, she meets this boy who is a jerk to her and later softens and they end up together.  Yes, picture that in the most cliched teen romance way you can, because that's it. make matters worse, there are LOOOOONG scenes of kids training for this Army.  Scenes in movies where people are fight training bore me to tears unless something else is done to spice them up.  In 'Rocky', it was a musical montage with a rousing theme.  In 'Batman Begins', it was intercut with scenes of Bruce learning stealth and making smoke bombs.  In 'The Matrix', the training scene was not that long and had some cool effects.  In all three of these examples, the characters were established before they starte training, so you cared what they were learning.  This movie uses the training to establish the characters and it doesn't work because you don't care who is fighting and it takes you out of the movie.  At least 'Ender's Game' had zero gravity stuff.

Like I said, this movie should have focused more on the "bring down the system" stuff, which is more interesting "rebellion" for a movie than running away to join the Army and getting a tattoo.  I give this movie 1.5 ferris wheels out of 5, just because Woodley and her movie mom, played by Naomi Watts, give good performances.

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