Written by / 3/18/2016 / No comments / , ,

DIVERGENT SERIES: 2014-2016

Reviews of DIVERGENT, INSURGENT and DIVERGENT SERIES ALLEGIANT PART ONE 2014-2016
KILL BILL 
You know it's really tough; all these dystopian future novel adaptations, and being a... slightly older person trying to not only keep up with each one, and to remember what happened during the last venture, but how each ended to (almost finally) lead to DIVERGENT SERIES: ALLEGIANT PART ONE, which is the first part of two final bows...

That, when it comes down to it, can all be blamed on the goblin-faced (yet formerly brilliant) Quentin Tarantino: after he told the Weinstein boys to split KILL BILL in half, the last films of the final doomed teen movie adaptations have had two sections. So here, instead of just a review of the latest, THE DIVERGENT SERIES: ALLEGIANT PART ONE, we'll go back and re-blog the entire franchise, thus far, in order, so that the only place to find anything DIVERGENT-related will be here and here only. And when the next (final?) one comes out, it too will be added... Hoping this works for the growing Millennial audience...

2014 DIVERGENT
DIVERGENT (2014): Imagine if high school guidance counselors ran the government, or more like, if they were the government… Well in DIVERGENT, society is broken up into five factions, ranging from the brains to the needy to the helpful to the muscle, and after an important test, it's ultimately each teenager’s choice under which group they will fit into, for life…

To delve into all the faction titles would be a waste of time, especially since the source material fans are way ahead of those unaware of the ingredients that make this adaptation work or not… So let's just review the film by itself, for Dummies, unread. The important group is Dauntless, which are basically the police and/or military, and our humble heroine, Tris, secretly a “Divergent,” meaning she doesn’t fit into any category and could provide a threat to the government, is set to join ranks with the fearless warrior clan. Thus, most of the story has Tris going through extreme tests, both physical and mental, to become a Dauntless member: like the shyest kid in school joining the Marines. And in the leading role, DESCENDANTS starlet Shailene Woodley turns in a good if subdued performance (rather bland compared to her Oscar Snubbed role in the Alex Payne film) while love-interest Theo James as "Four," a hard-nosed trainer, really stands out in the acting department, displaying a robotic, militaristic persona that progressively chisels down into a vulnerable guy, without being sappy or predictable.

Doomed romance is very popular with teens
The best scenes have all the characters competing to remain in the group. Herein Woodley has her own arc, progressing from a timid novice into a cunning fighter, making for a worthwhile action hero within a future-world resembling THE HUNGER GAMES, only not as primitive: Buildings are dilapidated and semi-structured while vast fields, full of immense electric fences, are spread hopelessly across a scorched earth. But the white-walled rocky interior, resembling the corridors of Disneyland’s Matterhorn, is where most of the film takes place, and train tracks connect everything. All this is overseen by high tech computers that aren’t very far-fetched: A few of the characters actually use what look like iPads.

Forget that Oscar Snub
Sweeping action coincides smoothly with the storyline, which is somewhat wordy and complimented but still easy to follow. The most suspenseful element is how Tris fights to stay within the boundaries of the group’s pecking order while keeping her secret, like a spy undercover, and toning down her capabilities: Imagine a Jedi Knight taking a crash course at Stormtrooper College (this was written years before seeing FORCE AWAKENS, involving a conflicted human stormtrooper wielding a lightsaber) and you might get the idea.

Overall, DIVERGENT is entertaining yet occasionally goes too deep over non-reader’s heads, sporadically veering into seemingly pointless subplots, meant only for later installments while the climax is stretched about twenty minutes too long. And on a philosophical level, it’s interesting how kids today are enlightened by authors influenced by the likes of George Orwell as opposed to the fantastical HARRY POTTER or TWILIGHT craze. Perhaps the depiction of a “dystopian” society, where youth means everything, caters to the intense narcissism of young adults, while the romantic element of sacrifice works primarily for female audiences: After all, no matter what the genre, escapism is everything!

2015 INSURGENT
INSURGENT (2015): Alfred Hitchcock thought up the term McGuffin to reference an important plot device that moves a story, and that the audience doesn’t care about. In suspense films it can be a microchip. The hero must either find it or hide it while the bad guys want it or have it. And in this case, the McGuffin is extremely important.

For those who hardly remember DIVERGENT, which came out last year but seems several years old given all the teenage Dystopic future tales including THE MAZE RUNNER and all the HUNGER GAMES, here's a quick summary: A controlled society is broken up into groups aka fractions embodying those with brains and those with muscle and wits… Meanwhile, a Divergent is an extremely rare case, tapping into all the elements… Kind of like, Jedis or something...

"The series isn't so spectacular now."
Enter Shailene Woodley’s Tris… who had joined the more militarized group even though she’s got more brains than brawn, making up the underdog arc of the first venture. And so, having met a band of soon-to-be revolutionaries, including a chiseled handsome warrior named Four, who is now her genuine love-interest, she’s seeking the film’s McGuffin: a magical box her parents were hiding that unlocks something very, very special indeed.

Starting out with a barrage of terrific action sequences including a fight on a fast-moving train, we’re given this visual storm only because of the long, tedious calm that follows: involving Tris hooked up to a dream machine called a “Sim” (for Simulator) that helps villainous Jeanine, played by TITANIC starlet Kate Winslet, look into her powers, or to discover if she has any… or something. But alas, much of the film involves dreams or simulations from said machine, and with so much expository information benefiting readers of the books over anyone needing to be reminded of the last (first) venture, INSURGENT isn’t even entertaining enough for a cable television series, which this franchise may be more suited for.

2016 ALLEGIANT PART ONE
DIVERGENT SERIES: ALLEGIANT PART ONE: Like the first part of the last act of THE HUNGER GAMES, this movie is kind of a war film... but more brainy and surreal than an all-out bombastic thriller...

Apoc Now
The effects, from a splendid sky the color of the main helicopter sequence in APOCALYPSE NOW combined with a yellowy acid flashback (don't try this at home, kids), to exterior ruins that don't look that ruined at all, we start out with somewhat of an explanation of what's happened so far, and the Divergent herself, Shailene Woodley as Tris, and her band of friends wind up at a heavenly interior palace that seems just too perfect, run by an old guy played by the dumb of dumber, Jeff Daniels (a darn good actor in movies before, like SOMETHING WILD and TERMS OF ENDEARMENT).

Thus, everything is set up to be a beyond-perfect paradise, and their only mission is to recover lost children, who wind up actually being... well that's a big spoiler all on its own, and becomes apparent way too soon for the movie to gain suspense to equal the fight and/or chase scenes, mostly involving sleek helicopters (so that APOCALYPSE NOW reference wasn't in vain after all, yet the machines look more BLUE THUNDER).

Old People Suck
Alas, unlike the first part of the final two HUNGER GAMES, which kept the action going all the way through, this is merely a bridge to connect to the inevitable overthrow of bad old people who, if the famous LOGAN'S RUN plot... where no one lives past 30... came true, there'd be no problem at all. For in this world, the young bad guys are simply brainwashed henchman controlled by those awful adults, and there aren't too many of either in this misleading spider trap they're lured inside of; at least not at first. Meanwhile, the romance between Tris and Four isn't much but a few sneaked kisses...

Trust him?
Making the only real intriguing character Peter. In this role, the WHIPLASH Oscar nominee will often work for whoever pays him the most, and can't be fully trusted... Or is this a ruse in itself? More complicated youngsters like him could be more interesting than a few of the, at this point, cardboard cutouts (not including the two leads) trying to save a world they never knew in the first place...

Like in THE HUNGER GAMES and all those other adaptations, the kids were born into some form of, in their eyes, "normal" slavery that just cannot, and, as more information is gathered, simply will not last forever...

For in all these popular novels, youth is literally wasted on the young, and damn if they don't want to have some fun and stop following so many orders, forced to do what adults want them to after "high school"... kinda like real life. So write a popular set of teenage novels, become super rich, and have total freedom and happiness: and therein lies the meaning of life.

RATINGS: DIVERGENT: ***1/2 INSURGENT: *1/2 ALLEGIANT PART ONE: **
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