‘Divergent’ Is Critic-Proof; Woodley Is a Star

Source: Summit Entertainment

The highly anticipated film Divergent opens in theaters nationwide this weekend, and despite initial reviews being lackluster at best, the film is expected to rake in the dough from fans of the book series the movie is based on.

The Film mimics the extremely popular formula involving an adaptation of a young adult novel series with a rabid fan base, a strong female lead, and a dystopian society that puts said heroine’s physicality and morality to the test. A similar formula made both the Twilight series and the Hunger Games films into huge successes, and Divergent has already been called a critic-proof film.

Good thing, too, considering the movie has a paltry 33 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Many critics have said that the film just feels too familiar — it doesn’t break out of the mold set by Twilight and the Hunger Games enough. Critics also said that the first film in what will be a three-film franchise spends a lot of time explaining Divergent’s complicated world and not enough time actually making plot unfold.

One consistent area of praise, however, is the performance of young star Shailene Woodley, who is set to become the ‘next Jennifer Lawrence’. The world of Divergent is set up in five different “factions.” At 16, citizens must decide whether to stay in the faction that they were born in with their families or move to a new faction on their own. Woodley plays Tris, the main character in the series, who chooses to leave her family in “Abnegation” to join the “Dauntless” faction consisting of the police and military, and goes through some tough training to prove her worth as a fighter. She’s set up against the antagonist leader of the “Erudite” faction, played by Kate Winslet.

“To its credit, the film goes to some dark places in its finale and is genuinely unflinching in both the idea of a female action hero and the moral sacrifices that come with picking up a weapon and doing bad. What happens in the end isn’t ‘empowering’ and it isn’t ‘sexy’. Tris truly gets her hands bloody for survival and for the greater good,” said Forbes critic Scott Mendelson.

Woodley has been praised for her dedication to the role. “Woodley, a sensitive performer, is hamstrung by the screenplay but lends her role relatability and a convincing athleticism,” said a review from The Hollywood Reporter.

Woodley said in a recent interview with The Daily Beast that director Neil Burger chose her for the role because of her interest in survival skills. “The producers asked me what I liked to do in my spare time and I told them I used to study how to survive in the wild — how to make shelter, build fire, and create weapons out of the ecosystem,” she said. “The way it happened was so quick and easy. I had a meeting with the producers and told them about my interests — which involve survival skills — and then I met with Neil, and he said, ‘I think you’re Tris.’”

Woodley famously turned down another big franchise, Fifty Shades of Grey, to participate in Divergent. Fifty Shades, though also based on a series of novels, would have gained the actress a very different, much older fan base. Given that Divergent’s formula is essentially critic-proof and some are still unsure about how the film adaptation will pull off the racy scenes in Fifty Shades, Woodley seems to have made the right choice. Comparisons to the highly successful Lawrence don’t hurt, either, though the two apparently haven’t yet met.

Woodley’s performance in Divergent could lead to more roles given how she’s charmed critics already. Divergent will expose her to a much wider audience after warmly received roles in small but well-received films like The Spectacular Now and the George Clooney vehicle The Descendants.

Lukewarm reviews could deter those who are on the fence about seeing the movie, but fans of the novel series are predicted to attend the opening in droves and may even push the film’s box office take higher than either Hunger Games movie. If the film is good enough to convince fans of the series to come back for the second offering, then it will have succeeded. If it’s good enough to convince those who maybe haven’t read the book and go to see the movie either based on the buzz or with a someone who is a fan, then the franchise will be set to make bank at the box office for two more films.

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