When it comes to consistently filling movie theatres, teenage kids are a massive market — kids can move movies into the billion-dollar profit range.
Don't tell them though, because one of the common tenets of adolescence is an intrinsic fear of being wrongly categorized. From random intramural team selection to group projects and standardized evaluations to ostracizing cliques— it's uncomfortable and terrifying for most kids to be separated from "their people."
Even worse, then they graduate into a "real" world and are forced to find out for themselves exactly where they belong.
Divergent, opening Friday at the Village 8, is a teeny-bopper sci-fi flick hoping to cash in on that particular slice of teenage angst. Set in a foreboding future, Divergent's youth are subjected to a litany of tests to help "decide" which of five different factions of society they belong in. The rich get richer and the poor get shat on — but so long as everyone plays by the rules, they are protected from the savage world outside the walls.
But a young "divergent" hero like Beatrice is the loophole in the system — she doesn't fit into any of the five options and is fearless by nature. As an outsider Beatrice possesses the power to upset the entire order of things. So cue the explosions and some Hunger Games-ish teenage non-romance (seems the trend these days is strong female roles pushing the admiring boys away).
Based on a teen-lit series, Divergent has potential as a coming-of-age myth about being forced to discover your role in life before you feel ready, but the filmmakers seem so intent on building the next cinematic franchise they forgot to make a good first installment. A lot of Divergent is spent setting up future movies before we're even sure we even want to see this one. There are too many plot threads.
Also it's dark, but not violent, and the looming threat of totalitarian-military rule doesn't seem to loom that heavily. I'm not generally one to complain about a 30-minute gunfight but when it starts around minute 120, even that feels like a drag.
Divergent will likely still make big money though. Fans of the books will drive hype and the acting is decent enough to lure in new converts — Shailene Woodley makes for a peppy heroine and Kate Winslet delivers a pretty solid fascist-villainess.
Speaking of dictatorships, Kermit the Frog's reign of power comes to an end in Muppets Most Wanted when a super-criminal frames the Muppet frontman and steals his identity. This is the second Disney incarnation of the beloved Jim Henson creations — 2011's The Muppets was effective nostalgia hung on a calculated reboot. This one seems a bit truer to the Muppet adventures of old — the plot is simple, the stakes are low, and the characters are allowed off the leash to have some fun. At heart the Muppets are a vaudeville-esque variety show that work best when they have that gonzo mix of spontaneity and self-knowing mayhem. This one works.
Sticking with fur, the Download of the Week is episode 314 of The Muppet Show with special guest Harry Belafonte. There's an epic drum battle between Belafonte and Animal, and the traditional African song Turn the World Around is as telling and insightful today as it was in 1979.
Don't forget about the Whistler Arts Council's next flick in their epic Monthly Movie documentary series — Pussy Riot: A Punk Rock Prayer hits the screen at Millennium Place on Wednesday, March, 26 at 7 p.m. Take your kids.