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And this is not a very interesting screenplay, nor a very good one. It feels, at times, perfunctory: hitting all the plot points just fine, but without a ton of imagination, especially as it concerns dialogue. (The moment when Tris delivers the line "I'm not Dauntless, I'm Divergent" had to have been written expressly for the trailer, right?)

Yet, one big reason the movie largely succeeds is its heroine, Shailene Woodley, with whom I've been enamored since her stunning turn in The Spectacular Now last summer. (Her co-star in that film, the very talented Miles Teller, has a sizeable role in this movie too, and it was great fun watching them, especially in a scene where they have to take swings at each other in the boxing ring.) Theo James as Four is a worthy leading man, and any supporting cast involving Kate Winslet and Ashley Judd is always going to be good.

(By the way, one sign that YA dystopia has graduated completely beyond the "genre fiction" category is the quality of its adaptations' supporting casts; add Divergent's to Hunger Games', which includes Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz—his daughter Zoe is in Divergent—Stanley Tucci, and the great, great Philip Seymour Hoffman.)

But Divergent left me wishing it more carefully dealt with its political and social implications—teenagers know keenly the feeling of fighting to find one's identity against categories, sure, but the story's answer seems to be "just face your fears and you'll be okay." Okay. Bravery is important. But what about a sense of the danger of social engineering based on "science"?

Theo James and Shailene Woodley in 'Divergent'
Summit Entertainment

Theo James and Shailene Woodley in 'Divergent'

One political fear the story touches is also worth mentioning. The trouble really begins when one faction—Erudite, the learned, who essentially stand in for the intelligentsia—plot to overthrow the selfless faction in charge of public service, a task they would accomplish by subjugating the strong soldier faction.

This is where we first catch a whiff of something truly sinister. It's effective largely because it taps into a widespread fear in our age of populist movements on the right (Tea Party) and left (Occupy): that our political systems are being overtaken by people who are groomed for that spot their whole lives, and who are not in it to serve the population, but rather to exert a Nietzschean will to power.

That fear is strongly reflected—and reflected upon—in our many, many political television shows, like House of Cards, Scandal, Homeland, The Newsroom, and more (I've written more about this here). I don't know where Divergent is headed, but it seems the factionless may have something to say about all this. (If they don't, it's a failure of the books.)

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