Divergent, Muppets Most Wanted – Movie Reviews

DivergentDivergent – PG-13
Release Date: Fri 21 Mar 2014

Divergent manages to borrow and crib from several popular stories and still come up with something reasonably fresh and unpredictable. Comparisons to other young adult franchises, particularly The Hunger Games are unavoidable, but Divergent manages to feel fresh on the screen in the first movie of a trilogy without bogging us down in a lot of politics, philosophy and exposition.

Tris (Shailene Woodley) is a teenage girl growing up in a post-apocalyptic Chicago with her parents and brother. The family is a member of one of five factions, different classes of society that live side by side and provide different functions. There is a warrior faction, the Dauntless who Tris seems interested in, and we soon learn that children are allowed to choose which faction they want to belong to at a certain age. However they’re also given a hallucinogen-induced personality test that is supposed to help them know themselves well enough to choose – all of which can be monitored on computer screens in real time. Someone who doesn’t clearly fit into one faction – or fits into multiple factions – is considered “divergent.”

After covering up Tris’ divergent test result, she chooses to join the warrior Dauntless faction and begins training with them. She learns to be brave and some combat while befriending Four, one of the trainers and leaders of the Dauntless while also learning how to “fake” being a true Dauntless member in further hallucinogenic tests so as not to give away her identity as divergent.

The story covers many “chosen one” tropes, with the various houses and sorting hat mechanics from Harry Potter, the hallucinogen monitoring technology similar to The Matrix and the brewing tensions between the factions similar to The Hunger Games. Woodley’s performance as Tris is impressive as she’s believably defiant and vulnerable in turn or nearly simultaneously as the plot demands. We believe she’s fooling the others while still letting us know she’s unsure of herself.

Though the movie does start to drag in the last half-hour or so, it felt like a lot of ground was covered overall in the 139-minute running time. The ending leaves plenty of room for more to come without ending on a breathless cliffhanger. The slower part was likely setting the stage for things that won’t pay off until the sequels, leading to them feeling like an interruption of one natural conclusion after the movie’s climax before the true ending came in.

This movie is a great time at the cinema and should be a big mainstream crowd-pleaser for fans of the source books and movies like The Hunger Games. There are certainly room for both franchises and enough variation to not feel like watching two adaptations of the same source material.

Cal and I saw it opening night and had a discussion in the car:

Muppets Most WantedMuppets Most Wanted – PG
Release Date: Fri 21 Mar 2014

2011’s The Muppets was both a love-letter to the classic characters and a revitalization of the franchise. Jason Segel spent years getting it just right and getting it made. The jokes were funny, the songs were great and most of all, it had so much heart. Muppets Most Wanted seems to forget how important The Muppets are to the audience. The jokes mostly fall flat, with all the best stuff sadly residing in the trailer. Beyond the ironically-memorable “We’re Making A Sequel,” the songs are humorless and dull – sometimes they don’t even bother to serve the story. And the heart seems to have left the building with Segel’s character.

The story follows Ricky Gervais’ Dominic Badguy who is using The Muppets world tour as a distraction in order to commit heists with Constantine, an identical twin to Kermit aside from a mole. They glue a fake mole on Kermit, put green paint on Constantine and get Kermit sent to Tina Fey’s Siberian Gulag. The heist plot is extremely ho-hum, with a detached set of scenes of Ty Burrell’s stereotypical French Interpol agent working with Sam The Eagle to try and solve the mystery of the heists and the occasional motions of Badguy and Constantine stealing things.

In between are The Muppets doing versions of The Muppet show in Berlin, Madrid, Dublin and London. (The world!) These fleeting glimpses of the show are also consistently wasted. The Berlin guest is Cristoph Waltz – doing “the waltz.” And that’s it. That’s the whole show and the only joke. Celebrity cameos are painfully misused. Miss Piggy sings a Celine Dion song, and then sings another song – with Celine Dion. If this were 1997, kids might find that impressive or get the reference, but she just sings a song. It isn’t funny, heartfelt or musically interesting. It’s the bare minimum, punch-the-clock, kids love puppets, right?

I wanted to like this movie. I didn’t expect it to live up to the 2011 movie, but I did expect The Muppets. These were puppets with voices but no character, lines with no meaning. Constantine trying to imitate Kermit was funnier than any other character in a Muppet movie. It felt like a movie full of impostors.

Cal and I saw it opening night and had a discussion in the car:


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