AS the first Hunger Games film took $691 million worldwide and the sequel raked in $864 million it was inevitable that Hollywood would look for a clone it could also turn into a lucrative franchise.
Step forward Divergent, the first of another trilogy of dystopian yarns based on books by Veronica Roth which, like The Hunger Games, has already won over a loyal audience of teenage girls.
With a similarly fiesty young heroine and a plot line that is a close cousin to The Hunger Games, Divergent ticks an indecent number of boxes for producers looking to make a fast buck and has already passed the $100 million mark at the US box office, which means the franchise is up and running.
The story takes us to a post-apocalyptic world very much like any other you will have ever seen, with what is left of the city of Chicago protected by a giant fence. Just how the planet went to pot and what menace may be out there are never explained.
Inside the wire, what’s left of humanity is split into factions, based on personality traits – Abnegation (selfless), Amity (peaceful), Candor (truthful), Erudite (intelligent) and Dauntless (brave).
Upon coming of age, every teenager is given a test which tells them which faction they are genetically pre-disposed to be in but, after a ceremony akin to the Sorting Hat scenes in the Harry Potter films, they can jump into whatever gene pool they fancy.
Beatrice (Shailene Woodley) has grown up in in Abnegation but is fed up with wearing grey and helping old ladies cross the road and opts for Dauntless – who prove they are brave by running everywhere and jumping in and out of moving trains. But in truth her test was hushed up as she proved ‘divergent’ – her personality refusing to fit in with any actual faction.
Why and how this makes a teenage girl dangerous and capable of bringing down an entire society again isn’t clear but it upsets the perfectly-manicured leader of Erudite (Kate Winslet), who is plotting a despotic takeover and an extermination of the troublesome divergents.
Having renamed herself Tris, our heroine tries to hide her non-conformity in what basically is the army (the job of Dauntless is to defend the society and keep the peace without asking questions). Needless to say her inability to conform to the Dauntless rules puts her in danger but she finds an ally in Four, played by Theo James.
It’s all highly derivative with the factions and the military training sequences coming across as a kind of Hunger Games-lite.
But then the Hunger Games wasn’t exactly original and bears an alarming similarity to the Japanese offering Battle Royale.
What Divergent does do well is follow the post Twilight template for successful teenage girl cinema. Twilight, however, managed to get their mums hooked as well while The Hunger Games has enough spirit to have found a wider audience. Divergent’s box office numbers in America are impressive but this is one franchise that has very little appeal beyond its target audience.
Shailene Woodley was convincing as George Clooney’s daughter in The Descendants but seems to have been cast here purely because she has a passing resemblance to The Hunger Games’ Jennifer Lawrence. Winslet is a villain wth no bite, the future world that Roth has created is light on danger and the message of championing non-conformity is as old as cinema itself. For all but the most ardent teenage fan, this is all deadly dull.