Divergent represents Summit’s new attempt to launch yet another young adult (YA) best-selling novel-turned blockbuster franchise (a la Twilight and The Hunger Games). The film was included as part of the studio’s panel – along with Ender’s Game (read our recap) – at the 2013 International Comic-Con, even though the cast and crew only wrapped up principal photography earlier this week.

The lineup at the Divergent Comic-Con panel included director Neil Burger (Limitless) and the source novel’s author, Veronica Roth, in addition to several cast members: Shailene Woodley (The Descendants), Theo James (Underworld Awakening), Zoë Kravitz (After Earth), Ansel Elgort (Carrie (2013)), Mekhi Phifer (ER) and Maggie Q (Nikita), among others. Moderation duties for the panel were handled by The Nerdist‘s Chris Hardwick.

For those unfamiliar, here is an official synopsis for the film:

DIVERGENT is a thrilling adventure set in a future world where people are divided into distinct factions based on their personalities. Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) is warned she is Divergent and will never fit into any one group. When she discovers a conspiracy to destroy all Divergents, she must find out what makes being Divergent so dangerous before it’s too late.

Roth and Burger started things off with a “Divergent 101″ lesson, touching briefly on matters of importance; for example, what are the five factions into which people are separated in the film’s dystopian setting (a decaying future version of Chicago). Burger emphasized that he and his cast/crew has finished shooting literally just two days before the panel, but that they had spent the previous weeks assembling a rough trailer for the crowd to see (with footage that Burger described as being “very fresh”).

The Divergent trailer started with Tris and the other wannabe members of the Dauntless faction (i.e. the group for “brave” people) climbing up rusting support beams, in order to reach a dilapidated monorail – one which runs seven-stories high, covering most of the ground in a future version of rundown Chicago. Tris then jumped a train along with Christina (Kravitz) and the others, but they are soon forced to jump from the moving vehicle to the rooftop of an adorning building. The overall production design and aesthetic (clothing, eroded setting) was quite reminiscent of The Hunger Games movie – for obvious reasons, given the shared story/genre qualities.

After that, Tris and her peers face their initiation challenge: jumping down between a circle of buildings, into a seemingly bottomless hole below; Triss goes first and – of course – there’s a large net below, providing her safety. She then encounters the hunky Four (James), whom she clearly has a thing for right off the bat, and claims that her name is now officially Tris (it was a short nickname for Beatrice prior to that).

Thereon out, it’s montage time, with quick clips that show Dauntless members crowd-surfing in their dining hall and training in bone-crunching martial arts brawls, in addition to beats where Four teaches Tris a proper boxing stance (more sexual tension ensues), participates in target practice by throwing knives around her (Tris’ ear gets nicked) and the pair climbing together up an immense and decaying ferris wheel; we also got a brief glimpse at Kate Winslet as ‘the mysterious lady,’ named Jeanine Matthews. All in all, though, the footage was quite raw, so it was hard to discern what sort of visual style and personal artistic touch Burger had brought to the proceedings (a la Gary Ross’ use of whirlwind photography/editing in Hunger Games).

The panel concluded with some questions from the moderator, followed by the standard audience-member Q&A segment:

  • Woodley admitted to being nervous in front of the Comic-Con crowd, but spoke about Tris in a collected and friendly manner (if also somewhat vague).
  • James – who Hardwick joked had impregnated half the audience with his accent – said that he likes Four’s sense of masculinity and complexity (i.e. he’s more than just a heartthrob). He added that his favorite scene is the ferris wheel sequence (i.e. when Four’s fear of heights is put to the test), saying “Bravery is not about being fearless, it’s about dealing with things that are scary.”
  • The adult actors praised their younger costars for quickly establishing a strong sense of onscreen chemistry and camaraderie, before they had even shown up on set.
  • Roth revealed that the upcoming third installment in the Divergent book series, titled “Allegiant,” will be told from both Tris and Four’s perspectives.
  • The cast underwent Muay Thai martial arts training for the action/fighting sequences.
  • Woodley says she’s excited to see how a scene where Christina is hung over a chasm turns out in the final film’s cut.
  • Last fan question was about how similar each cast member feels they are to their character in the film. Miles Teller – who plays the not-so-loveable Peter – deadpanned that they both like classical music and brush their teeth in the shower.

Divergent opens in U.S. theaters on March 21st, 2014.