Like most movies, “Divergent” is based on a young-adult novel about a teenage girl living in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. In this case, the girl’s name is Beatrice (Shailene Woodley), and her society is one in which everyone is divided into five groups matching their personality (basically: smart, brave, honest, selfless, or kind). There’s a test you take when you’re, I don’t know, 17 or 18 that tells you which one you’re best suited for, and it’s usually whatever your parents were, but you’re allowed to actually choose whichever one you want. The test is just, like, a suggestion. And then once you’ve chosen, you go live with that group — the groups are segregated for some reason — and choose an occupation from among the careers assigned to that group. (People in the Candor tribe can be lawyers and judges; the Erudite group are the teachers and scientists; etc.) Once you choose a group, you can never go back and live in a different one, for reasons that — you will sense a recurring theme here — the movie does not share with us.
Beatrice discovers she’s “divergent,” which is to say she doesn’t fit neatly into any particular category. This makes her rare and unpredictable, and thus a threat to an orderly society. The Man wants you to fit in a box, but Beatrice don’t fit in no boxes. Keeping her freak divergent status a secret and going by Tris now, she joins Dauntless, the group for badasses. Everybody in Dauntless wears a lot of black and runs everywhere and fights all the time. It’s the military wing, the place where soldiers come from. Tris and her fellow new recruits go through some training montages under the strict leadership of a psycho named Eric (Jai Courtney) and a dreamboat named Four (Theo James), with Tris excelling at every turn thanks to her divergenting. Meanwhile, the icy president of the Erudite group, Jeanine (Kate Winslet), is planning a coup that will involve the Dauntlesses, and she’ll be darned if any lousy divergents are going to mess it up.
Directed by Neil Burger (“The Illusionist,” “Limitless”), this adaptation of Veronica Roth’s novel (the first in a trilogy, naturally) looks slick, but it’s nothing more than facile, easily digested teenage wish-fulfillment based on a shaky futurist premise. The point, spelled out repeatedly in case you’re slow, is that Tris can conquer her enemies just by being herself, a unique snowflake in a world full of conformists. (“Whoa!” says the teenage viewer. “I, too, am a special individual surrounded by drones!”) Whether something happened to humanity to make everyone easily categorizable, or whether we’re supposed to believe this is just how people are (they aren’t), the movie doesn’t say, of course. The movie seems to think slapping some future-lookin’ stuff on the screen with a hot-tempered girl and a pouty-lipped guy is all you need to make a dystopian hit. And there are two more of these? Ugh.
C (2 hrs., 19 min.; )