I had my skepticism cap on as I went into the theater last Thursday night to see Divergent, convinced it would just be another movie that failed to live up to its hype. The influx of YA adaptations was beginning to feel like watching Hollywood butcher comic book films year after year: painful and awkward.
But with the release of The Hunger Games, there was a ray of hope that Hollywood could get it right and Harry Potter wasn’t just a fluke. Unfortunately, we had to suffer through the likes of City of Bones and Vampire Academy to get here, but Divergent has reaffirmed my faith. I won’t be running out to buy the DVD or anything, but I’d Redbox it.
Tris Prior lives in a futurist Chicago where society is broken into five factions, each of which prize certain values above others: Abnegation (selflessness), Amity (peace), Candor (honesty), Dauntless (bravery) and Erudite (Intelligence). While her family lives in Abnegation and she’s been taught never to think more of herself than necessary, she doesn’t feel like she belongs and dreams of something more. Her aptitude test is supposed to tell her where she belongs, but instead comes back inconclusive.
She learns that she is Divergent, which is a fancy way of saying her mind can’t be controlled by the various serums the Erudite like to push on everyone. Jeanine Matthews, leader of the Erudite, seeks to undermine the city’s leaders, the Abnegation, in an attempt to take over. Her theory is that when people are in control of their choices, they make the wrong ones. So, of course, those who are Divergent threaten her plan.
Divergent’s strength lie in two places: the cast and the special effects. I wasn’t too bothered by the choice in casting when Shailene Woodely and Theo James as Tris and Four respectively, but I was impressed with their portrayal of the characters and their on screen chemistry. Not only did the leads do a fantastic job, but the supporting cast equally stood out. Though it’s been three years since I’ve read Divergent, it was easy for me to place a name with a character’s mannerisms before they were formally introduced.
At the same time, the special effects are well-done and provide visually stunning scenes. My favorite in particular was the zip-lining scene.
Unfortunately for Divergent, the movie also highlighted many of the book’s plot holes regarding the society. While reading the book, it’s much easier to envision the Dauntless as a true group of brave individuals. However, in the movie they appear to be nothing more than foolish thrill seekers and adrenaline junkies, just as the Erudite seek to control everyone for… reasons. I was hoping there would be some sort of explanation to the factions, some philosophical point to make up for the illogical world building. Perhaps that is too much to ask for. Instead, what I really learned about Divergent, by way of the constant close ups, is that Shailene has really awesome hair and incredible eyelashes.
I was surprised at how much of the book the filmmakers managed to fit into the movie—it was very true to the book, except for a few things. A person who has never read the book will have little difficulty keeping up with the storyline, something YA adaptations seem to constantly struggle with the most. This may have something to do with the fact that Divergent follows a relatively simply plot that never deviates from Tris. This works in the movie’s favor, allowing the pacing to progress organically.
I was also happy with how the romance between Tris and Four was handled. The movie had enough scenes of them together to make their feelings actually seem believable, but at the same time it never felt like it detracted from the main plot. The only thing that caused me to shake my head a bit was Tris confessing her love to Four. I don’t know what Hollywood’s obsession is with teens uttering the L-word when they barely know each other, but I really wish that trend would die in a fire.
The majority of the action takes place at the very end of the movie, and for the most part, was nicely done. It held a good amount of anticipation and excitement for moviegoers who had been waiting for the moment action. For me, I would have liked to see a bit more throughout the film instead of at the very end, but this really isn’t the movie’s issue. It’s the source material. That leaves me to wonder what they plan to do with Insurgent, which has already been greenlit. Considering tht novel is mostly filled with a mopey, angst-filled Tris with the action happening in mostly the last 30 pages, I’m sure they’ll have their hands full.
Overall, I’m pleased with the outcome of Divergent despite myself. It has its flaws here and there and may not thrill veteran action film fanatics with its tendency to drag at times, but it provides a fun cinematic experience. If you can check your logical thinking at the ticket booth and appreciate Divergent for what it is, you’ll more than likely enjoy it.