In 2011 Neil Burger directed Limitless, a nifty little sci-fi flick starring Bradley Cooper. This director also helmed a twisty and rather original 19th-century costume drama with Edward Norton called The Illusionist. The Neil Burger who directed Divergent—a by-the-numbers adaptation of the best-selling YA novel about a postapocalyptic society that is rigidly divided into factions—is the same man, but seems to be a pod-person version of his former self: Divergent the movie is bland, boring, crassly violent—and poorly shot. Though the monochromatic and unimaginative production can’t be blamed entirely on Burger, the repetitious camera work, which alternates between extreme (for no reason) close-ups and amateurishly choreographed action sequences, certainly can. Then again, who knows how much pressure was brought to bear to make Divergent, the first in a trilogy, the next Hunger Games, only simpler.
And so it stars Shailene Woodley, who physically resembles Jennifer Lawrence, only plainer. Woodley, too, plays a kick-ass savior of society who is taken from her family by a pre-programmatic bureaucracy, but Tris, as she calls herself after the Choosing Ceremony (shades of faded Potter-mania), has much less psychological interest. Then again, jumping around moving trains and abandoned buildings in the drab innards of what used to be Chicago while performing routine acts of daredevilry isn’t exactly a crucible of character building. See, Tris was raised in one faction, Abnegation, where everyone is selfless, but chose to join another faction, Dauntless, where everyone is trained to be fearless. But really, she is neither. Because she is both. Or maybe all of them . . . for she is Divergent! And therefore she has superpowers, or something similar that shall be revealed, to those audience members who somehow managed to get caught up in this robotic drivel, in a year or so. Judging by part one’s utterly forgettable conclusion (though it does include Kate Winslet’s ice-bitch politico from faction Miscast), the sequel will not be worth the wait.