** SPOILERS **
In Divergent, a sixteen year old girl just wanted to learn parkour and ended up in the middle of a civil war. A hundred years after a nuclear apocalypse, Chicago is a walled city of relic skyscrapers criss crossed by ziplines on the banks of a dried up Lake Michigan. No one knows much about the world beyond the wall, but within, Chicago's society voluntarily divided themselves into a series of rigid factions. Let's see: there's Dauntless, the black leather-clad parkour fanatics who protect the city. Erudite, the business suit-wearing smarty pants. Candor, who talk too much. Amity, where there's a great white shark that eats tourists. And Abnegation, the drab Salvation Army hand-me-down-wearing do gooders who run the government but are afraid of mirrors.
Shailene Woodley plays Tris, born into Abnegation. She doesn't feel good about doing endless do goodery and knows from the 2.1 seconds she's allowed to look in a mirror every day that she's a lot better looking than her faction allows her to be. Woodley admires Dauntless for their cool black outfits and their irrational capacity to climb up buildings and leap off of trains. All teenagers in Divergent Chicago must take a test where they get jabbed with a needle in the neck and hallucinate. This will reveal which faction they are destined for. But they can also choose a different faction if they want. It's kind of confusing, and confused is what Woodley is, especially when the lady who administers her test, Maggie Q, freaks out about her "inconclusive" results. You see, and it takes Woodley a while to realize this, Woodley is Divergent - meaning she has a lot going on upstairs and could belong to more than one faction. This makes her a threat to society, mostly because she's not great at doing what she's told.
In a Harry Potter-like sorting ceremony where instead of a talking hat, the kids cut their hands on the same knife (unhygienic) and bleed into white bowls, Woodley rejects her crappy faction and chooses Dauntless, to the chagrin of her loving parents Ashley Judd and Tony Goldwyn (Fitz from Scandal, who looks like he's just as dismayed at being married to Ashley Judd and would rather live in Vermont with Olivia Pope.) After being welcomed into Dauntless, Woodley is immediately jumping off a train and learns she runs like a girl. But she's brave enough to jump into what looks like a bottomless chasm first, and that's what's important to the parkour devotees. Woodley is glad to shed her grey Abnegation rags for cool Dauntless black leather and she makes friends, including Zoe Kravitz. Oddly, there are three guys in her class of initiates who look alike, one of whom is Miles Teller, her love interest co-star in The Spectacular Now, but here Woodley and Teller hate each other.
Dauntless live in a rock quarry and hold fight clubs day and night. Woodley is hazed by Dauntless' sadistic leader Jai Courtney. To be hazed in Dauntless means becoming target practice for knife throwing and occasionally being the victim of attempted murder. Also, Woodley quickly learns she's lousy at fight club. She learns this by repeatedly getting punched in the face and ending up in the hospital, but she's never so injured that her good looks are threatened. There is no quit in Woodley, though, which impresses Theo James, her handsome Ken doll Dauntless instructor. They have the requisite hots for each other, and there's no prize for guessing that he is also Divergent. Takes one to know one, I suppose. James has tattoos of all of the factions on his back because he "doesn't want to be just one thing." He wants to be brave, selfless, smart, etc. By the way he plants one on Woodley, we know he's also horny.
Woodley becomes mired in the dirty politics of her city, which center around who gets to call the shots in Divergent Chicago. The leader of Erudite is Kate Winslet, sporting her American accent. Winslet believes strongly that Erudite should run Chicago, and of course they should, because they wear business suits. Winslet plots to overthrow Abnegation and she also wants to kill all the Divergents because Divergents be trouble, yo. Winslet's plan is deviously clever: as soon as Dauntless finalized their freshman class of initiates, she uses mind control to turn all the Dauntless into killbots and sics them on the Abnegation shanty town. The third act of Divergent is a rather shocking bloodbath. Within ten minutes, Woodley is orphaned. She watches her mother Judd get murdered as they attempt to flee and has an emotional breakdown. Not long after, her father gets gunned down, but Woodley barely shrugs. Then again, she's got a war to win, and win it she does.
As the centerpiece of Divergent, Woodley is very charming, with a winning natural charisma about her. When Woodley proudly snarls "I'm Divergent!" at Winslet right before she jabs her in the neck with mind control serum, she's super cute. She may be Divergent and can throw a mean knife, but even by the end, Woodley is no Ronda Rousey in the hand to hand combat department. Woodley loses three straight fights, including one to a mind controlled James, but her pleas of "I love you!" snaps him right out from beating her to death. There's a fun running gag where whenever Woodley points a gun at someone, no one ever believes she'll shoot. "Why does everyone keep saying that?" Woodley pouts before opening fire. Probably the best moment in Divergent is when Woodley is strapped to a zipline and thrillingly soars across the Chicago skyline. Ziplining totally beats parkour, unless you crash headfirst into a wall. Thankfully, Woodley did not smash her pretty face into a wall and will return in the sequel, the next movie titled after a word many will need to look up in a dictionary: Insurgent.