Apparently, even in the distant postapocalyptic future, society will still be obsessed with silly reality-TV-show-like challenges and computer-gaming scenarios. Or at least that’s the rub with this mostly entertaining but sometimes hokey and popcorny sci-fi yarn, based on the teen novel by Veronica Roth and with a distinctly Hunger Games-y lay of the narrative land.
After the unspecified Great War, Chicago has been walled off and turned into an experimental, new, and tightly regimented society broken up into factions —Abnegation, Erudite, Amity, Dauntless, and Candor — and the luckless, homeless factionless. As in Hunger Games, girls rock (or girl rocks) in this story about the tough and obstacle-bounding heroine Beatrice “Tris” Prior (Shailene Woodley), who has been deemed an aberrant “divergent” in her aptitude test: In other words, she’s an individualist multitasker able to function in more than one direction and a threat to the dystopian utopian order of the New World.
In the foe corner, we have the ice queenly member of the Erudite set, Jeanine (Kate Winslet), who issues such chilly decrees as “faction before blood” and “human nature is the enemy.” In a role deliciously against type for normally heroic-ish Winslet, she plays the would-be genocide architect wielding mind-control serum and fancy touch-screen über-computer programs to facilitate an automaton police state and a will to wipe out the benevolent Amity cluster. Meanwhile, the right-minded young Tris and a handsome fellow named Four (Theo James), her love interest and partner in a fight for good, join forces to try to save the serum-hoodwinked marauders from exacting Evil Kate’s scheme. Will they succeed, and can they marshal individualist will against the fascistic political machinery around them? More to the point, will they make life safe for a sequel or three?
Despite the big-screen pleasures — and big screen is the proper mode for this subtlety-be-darned blockbuster wannabe — of the retro-futurist world created and the game-to-the-death-driven plot, moments of suspended disbelief ultimately get in the way of a complete good time. But there are plenty of small-plate treats along the way.
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