Similar but different from Hunger Games

HIGH-SCHOOL CRUCIBLE: Woodley (pictured with James) plays a multi-skilled teen who has to pick a faction. The reviewer finds the film's future version of Chicago, with the factions embodying high-school student body types, oddly familiar.


    Mar 20, 2014

    Similar but different from Hunger Games


    Sci-fi romance/140 minutes/Opens today

    Rating: 3/5

    The story:

    In the future, the problem of social unrest has been solved by dividing humanity into five factions, with each given a function. Every teen must take a mind test to determine a predisposition, which helps the teen choose a faction.

    In Chicago, Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley), nicknamed Tris, takes the test. It shows she is a "divergent", multi-skilled person and thus uncategorisable, which will result in her social expulsion.

    As the day of choosing nears, she must not only hide her divergent status, but must also decide if she will join the faction she likes the most and, in so doing, break her parents' hearts (Tony Goldwyn and Ashley Judd). Based on the best-selling Divergent trilogy of young-adult novels.

    THE title of this could be Convergent, given how the plots of young-adult novels seem to be coming to rest in one place.

    Destiny finds a young female protagonist of uncommon courage and intelligence and puts her through a trial, during which she meets an attractive male in whom she can confide her secret.

    It would be easy to dismiss this as The Hunger Games Part Duh because of the obvious similarities in structure, but there are a few key differences.

    Besides, if this work featured a gifted young male with a messianic destiny (Ender's Game, 2013, and a dozen others), no one would bat an eyelid. It is that there is a teen female character on which detractors seem to be fixated.

    Here, if comparisons between the two franchises were to be made (and this, too, forms the first of a film trilogy), this would be the more straightforwardly teen-oriented.

    There is no camp weirdness in the form of bouffant-tressed games coaches and hosts, nor is there the darkness in the notion of child-versus-child death matches. It is as if author Veronica Roth sought to buff away some of the earlier series' more troubling ideas.

    In its place is a society that looks horribly dystopic to the average American teen, what with its emphasis on social conformity and caste streaming by mental aptitude. But this reviewer found Future Chicago comforting and oddly familiar.

    Roth's Future Chicago is high school writ large, with the factions representing the standard student body types - hippies, jocks, nerds, do-gooders and so on. The worst kind of society, therefore, is one in which you are stuck with your high-school label for life.

    Shailene Woodley, 22, elevates the weak material, giving heroine Beatrice Prior equal measures of strength and vulnerability. The weak link is the male lead, played by the pouty-lipped British actor Theo James, 29, who brings male model looks and not much else.

    All this is helmed by Neil Burger (Limitless, 2011; The Illusionist, 2006), a director known for competent mid-budget thrillers. This is par for the course.