Time Out says
Dir: Neil Burger (2014, 139 minutes). Cast: Shailene Woodley, Miles Teller, Kate Winslet, Theo James. Now showing.
Rest easy, Katniss: You've got this round. The first film adapted from Veronica Roth's generically dystopian book series arrives with a sludgy, gray-hued plop. It doesn't help that Roth's especially young YA source material is particularly dopey, making 'The Hunger Games' read like high Orwell. Her scenario is based on a caste premise—some of us are 'dauntless,' some are 'erudite,' and still others are (gasp) 'divergent' and thus unclassifiable—which you already know these characters are going to awake from in a groggy, pissed-off mood. (Why'd it take 100 post-war years to realise that?) The movie's walled-off Chicago feels computerised, some of the clunky sets are 'Star Trek'-grade awful and you're not going to get swept up in any action.
A saving grace comes in the form of Shailene Woodley, the gifted 22-year-old who plays heroine Beatrice, born to conflicted impulses and persuasively more complex than her dialogue would suggest. She bends to Four (Theo James, a poster-ready Che for hormonal tweens), handsome leader of the clan she runs off with. Yet after a middle section of knife-throwing and other tests, 'Divergent' doesn't have nearly enough for its star to do. One would be better off experiencing Woodley via her heartbreaking turn in last year's 'The Spectacular Now', a drama that actually has more to say about nightmarish cliques and individuality than any lackadaisical slide into future schlock. Joshua Rothkopf