Critics seem to be mostly won over by the film adaptation of the young adult dystopian novel “Divergent,” and even those that are less enthusiastic agree that star Shailene Woodley is great in the role of protagonist Tris Prior.
O’Sullivan called the rules of the society in which Tris lives that dictate everyone must be separated into a faction based on their talents “silly.”
“But the film actually does a pretty good job of articulating this rationale,” he wrote. “Visually, “Divergent” delights…. Woodley also makes for an appealingly complex Tris, a heroine whose sense of loss at leaving her family behind — along with her sense of identity — is tempered by the thrill of discovering new powers, both moral and physical…. [T]he movie serves up an even more fully fleshed version of Tris.”
Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan praised both Woodley and actor Theo James, who portrays her instructor Four.
“Though its main appeal will be to those who read the book and are young adults either in fact or in spirit, ‘Divergent’ does have something for the rest of us and that's the chance to see the pair of performers who make that romantic music together,” he wrote. “Woodley's strong presence allows her to be all that she can be as Tris, dividing her time between scared and self-confident. And British actor James … never overplays his hand. Their engaging performances are money in the bank.”
“The first half of 'Divergent' is a lean, exciting basic-training thriller,” Gleiberman wrote. “The second half of the movie goes on a bit, with too many rote combat scenes. Yet the director, Neil Burger (the fanciful craftsman who made ‘Limitless’ and ‘The Illusionist’), keeps you invested, staging a rise-of-the-savior-heroine plot so that it seems less ritualistic than it does in the ‘Hunger Games’ films.”
However, Associated Press reviewer Jocelyn Noveck found the movie “lackluster.”
“For a film predicated on the principle that being different – or ‘divergent’ – is what makes you special, ‘Divergent’ just doesn't diverge enough from the pack,” she wrote, though she noted that “Shailene Woodley delivers a crucial dose of humility, sensitivity and intelligence in this showcase role. And it's no surprise, either, that she generates nice chemistry with her rather absurdly good-looking co-star, Theo James.”
And Guardian critic Tom Shone called the movie “an endless slog.”
“Roth has filled out her world without thinking it through as a dramatic space,” Shone wrote of the author’s universe. “The bulk of this 160-minute film is taken up with … evaluations and physical aptitude tests in smoky, diffusely lit interiors.” However, he did call Woodley “a lovely performer.”