Trailer Trashin’: Another Crack at Teen-Lit Jackpot in Divergent
Hello again, dear readers, and I hope you all enjoyed your long Labor Day weekend. Now that the end-of-August releases have landed with their customary thud, we can leave the summer movie season behind and look forward to the fall and winter releases. In the meantime, this week’s new Trailer Trashin’ takes a look at the first teaser for the upcoming sci-fi book adaptation Divergent.
Premise: In a futuristic world where society is divided into five factions which each represent a different virtue, teenagers have to decide if they want to stay in their faction or switch to another – for the rest of their lives. When Beatrice “Tris” Prior (Shailene Woodley) is undergoing the initiation process for her chosen faction, she learns that she is a Divergent – a person who does not fit into any one faction. If this secret got out, it would mean certain death for her. As she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel the seemingly perfect society, her secret might help her to save the people she loves…or it might destroy her.
My take: Ever since Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings made their hugely successful big screen debuts back in late 2001, fantasy literature has been one of Hollywood’s biggest go-to sources of material to adapt. But most of the fantasy adaptations that have tried to ride the Rowling/Tolkien bandwagon have not succeeded, and the last decade is littered with would-be franchise-starters that were supposed to be the next big thing and instead fizzled out. Something new finally hit with the success of Twilight in 2008, which kicked off a new trend of adapting recent young adult-aimed books, many of which are focused on romantic plotlines. The bandwagon-jumpers reared their heads, and again most of them failed, until the runaway success last year of The Hunger Games, which stood out by being focused on action instead of a love story. Now, yet another recent book is getting its chance to try for cinematic success. I had no interest in Divergent before this, and seeing the teaser didn’t do anything to change my opinion.
If nothing else, the ensemble of actors assembled here is a talented bunch. Shailene Woodley has been a rising star since her acclaimed role as George Clooney’s daughter in The Descendants (2011), a streak she continued with The Spectacular Now earlier this year, and playing Tris Prior is probably her most high-profile role since then, but I’m not sure the material here is really serving her talent. Theo James, best known for the TV series Bedlam and Golden Boy, plays Tobias “Four” Eaton, Tris’ love interest. Ansel Elgort, who will be making his movie debut in Carrie this fall, plays Caleb Prior, Tris’ brother. Kate Winslet plays Jeanine Matthews, who seems to be a leader in this future society, and someone I assume is also the main villain; I’m not sure if the character is anything to write home about, but it is kind of cool to see Winslet playing an outright evil character, which I don’t think she’s done before. Ray Stevenson, who will be returning to his role of Volstagg in Thor: The Dark World this fall, plays Marcus Eaton, Tobias’ abusive father; Stevenson is an actor I always enjoy watching, and I’m sure he’ll do good work here. Maggie Q, currently starring in the excellent but criminally under-seen TV series Nikita, plays a woman named Tori, who seems to be the one who informs Tris of her Divergent nature; I’m always happy to see Maggie Q getting work, and it’s nice that she’s apparently not playing an action role for once. Tony Goldwyn and Ashley Judd play, respectively, Andrew and Natalie Prior, Tris and Caleb’s parents. And Mekhi Phifer plays a guy named Max, who is apparently another villain.
Aside from the cast, there’s really nothing here that I was impressed by. Director Neil Burger previously brought us The Illusionist (2006) and Limitless (2011), so he’s no slouch as a filmmaker, but it really feels like he’s slumming here. As for the premise, it could make for an interesting story, but the way it’s presented to us here just makes me ask a bunch of questions that prevent me from being drawn in. How can a human being be boiled down to one overriding personality trait? How did this society begin? Why would the people accept being segregated like this for their entire adult lives? What makes the leaders/government think they can possibly wipe out free will? I’m sure at least some of these questions could be answered by doing some further research about the book, but that’s a cop-out answer. Movies based on books are supposed to stand on their own, not be a supplemental filmstrip to the source material. Finally, some of the lines in this teaser are almost painfully stilted, which makes it seem like they only exist to deliver exposition to the audience.
Right now, I’m predicting that Divergent is going to end up joining the long string of genre literature adaptations that are box office disappointments and quickly forgotten. This doesn’t look awful or unwatchable by any means, but there’s absolutely nothing here that interests me. The cast is good, but the material all feels like things we’ve seen done better in other films. For fans of the book, I hope the movie lives up to your expectations, but I’ll definitely be giving Divergent a pass when it opens next March.
Release Date: March 21st, 2014
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Ansel Elgort, Ray Stevenson, Kate Winslet, Zoë Kravitz, Maggie Q, Jai Courtney, Ben Lloyd-Hughes, Ben Lamb, Christian Madsen, Tony Goldwyn, Ashley Judd, Mekhi Phifer, Amy Newbold, Miles Teller, and Justine Wachsberger
Director: Neil Burger
Writers: Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor, based on the novel Divergent by Veronica Roth