Mar 26 2014 2:00pm

Living Up to the Hype: Divergent

Divergent movie review

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.


Stephanie Sinclair is one of the bloggers behind Cuddlebuggery, the Young Adult book blog dedicated to corrupting the reading community with sinister shenanigans, and an editor at YA Books Central.

Chris Nelly
1. Aeryl
I haven't seen the movie, or read the book, but I did catch the tumblr-splosion this weekend about the change from the book to movie, in regards to Four(?)'s assualt on Tris, I was wondering if you had any thoughts on that? Was it just a case of people not getting what the book intended, and the movie making it more clear, or did the people who made the movie not get what the book intended?
2. kimu
Unfortunately for Divergent, the movie also highlighted many of the book’s plot holes regarding the society.
This was exactly what I was thinking as I was walking out of the theater. There were some gaping plot holes in the books, but I glossed by them as I was reading. The movie really exposed the issues in a much bigger way.

I was blown away by the CGI showing the Chicago skyline and the whole zipline scene. It was really well done. Overall, I thought the movie was better than it looked like it was going to be in the trailer, but not anything really remarkable.
3. kimu
@Aeryl, re: the assault scene, it was jarring because it interpreted the fears Tris had in a very different way than I interpreted it based on the book. In the book, the fear was more about intimacy, which made sense given that Tris was hiding that she was Divergent. The scene in the movie made the fear about rape, and from my perspective, it really didn't fit the characters or the story at all. I don't know why the movie interpreted it this way, but it didn't make sense to me.
Rob Munnelly
4. RobMRobM
@3. Agreed. I liked the book approach better. Think they changed to amp up the drama.

Generally, I liked movie quite a bit. Acting of leads was very strong, especially SW. Odd that all of the male trainees had dark hair and were hard to tell apart (especially Will v. Al v. Peter). Weakened the strength of the supporting cast on screen.
Chris Nelly
5. Aeryl
@3&4, That's what I've been hearing, I just wandered if there was anyone who had interpreted differently.
Lori Hutton
6. lahutton
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,

Eh, I saw them as foolish thrill-seekers and adrenaline junkies in the book as well. Actually, I saw very little to portray them as the brave faction, tbh. They were the "who gives a f*ck" ones, or that's how it seemed.

The whole faction system was almost too simplistic, because I don't see how you can whittle people down to only 5 personality traits. The Amnity are the hippies, the Abnegation the goody two-shoes, the Erudites are the nerdy snobs and the Candor are the a-holes who think they can say whatever and it's all cool. None of which struck me as very feasible for any kind of short term functioning society, much less one that had been going on for any length of time.

Still, I have heard decent things about the movie so maybe I'll go check it out soon.
Scott Silver
7. hihosilver28
If you absolutely want to experience the story, I would say see the movie. Because then, you're only wasting 2 hours instead of 6 or more. I thought the world created in the book was offensively nonsensical, and the decent characters couldn't overshadow that.
Sean Tabor
8. wingracer
I haven't seen the movie but I just finished reading the book yesterday. My thoughts are that it's a pretty rubbish book but could make a decent movie. It's a simple plot with some good action and scenery that reads like it was written by a B grade Hollywood action screenwriter instead of a novelist. I guess the box office agrees.
Steph Sinclair
9. stephsinclair
@Aeryl, I think the complaints that say it was graphic are exaggerated. It lasts roughly 5 seconds, and the applause that follows wasn't commending her for fighting off her attacker, but congratulating her on successfully passing her test. However, even THAT was a part of the simulation.

My problem with that part was I felt it was unnecessary for the the almost rape scene to be there. Tris' fear in the book is intimacy, but what's the fear in the movie? Rape is not intimacy, and if she's having those fears about Four, then maybe she shouldn't even consider being in a relationship with someone she's not entirely comfortable with.

Another blogger explained that it was more a general fear after she was attacked by a group of boys and almost thrown in the chasm and that she feared another attack because she was alone with a boy she didn't know very well. But even that makes little sense to me since by the time she had her test, her and Four were an item and that wouldn't be a fear for her anymore.

@kimu, Agreed. It was harder to ignore things while watching it play out on screen. I really had to completely suspend belief.

@RobMRobM, That's interesting that you should say that. They didn't seem to play a big role in the movie (except for maybe Eric), but their roles in the book were a bit more significant. They did seem to all just fade into the background.

@Iahutton, Ha. That's very accurate. I thought there were a few in the Dauntless faction that were brave when I read the Divergent. But when I got to Insurgent, everything fell apart and it all felt very silly.

@hihosilver28, The word building is terrible. The last book attempts to pull everything together is some plausible fashion. Maybe it makes sense if you tilt your head and squint your eyes, but it's a very hard pill to swallow.

@wingracer, pretty much, yeah.
10. Sallie M
One of the things I remember about the book that I think they didn't transition clearly was how Tris's original faction was seen as "stiff/not intimate." Peter and a few others do call her "stiff" throughout the movie, but it didn't feel as threatening as it did in the book. I also think the movie didn't give her character enough time to transition from the timid Abnegation transfer to the brave and risk taker that she becomes. Yes, we see her getting stronger and learning how to shoot, but I didn't feel that she was coming out of her shell physically. The scene where she gets the tattoo, she's all of a sudden wearing a tight shirt with a plunging neckline and she's got blown out hair and make up. Even though it would have seemed a little vain, I felt that there should have been a short scene of Tris realizing that appearance isn't just attitude, but presentation as well -the scene where she burns her Abnegation outfit could have been meshed in with it.

Overall, I loved the movie. It doesn't matter to me as a reader that the Hunger Games or Twilight or any of the other young adult adaptions came first. I felt the character portrayals were seamless and the action scenes intense and enjoyable. I give the movie credit for taking a lot of the book and making it work, without losing any non-book fan audience. One of the ways movies incorporate back story to save time is with voice overs, and I felt that it did its propose while also letting us hear Tris' view on her world, as the book does.

Thanks for sharing your review, Stephanie!
11. godanov
No, The Hunger Games is a unoriginal ripoff of a very stupid WWE esq story 'Battle Royal'.
Divergant is a standard post postapocoliptic story as a method to disect current human society.
Deana Whitney
12. Braid_Tug
@11, No.
The Hunger Games is a rip off of a classic cult Japanese film. Which is an adapted from a 1999 novel by Koushun Takami, bearing the same name.

The WWE ripped them both off and took away their soul.
13. Megs
@11 and 12: And Divergent is a rip-off of The Giver. And Harry Potter is a rip-off of The Books of Magic. And Old Man's War is a rip-off of Starship Troopers. And most epic fantasy written after 1955 is a rip-off of The Lord of the Rings. And Pacific Rim is a rip-off of Transformers. I could do this all day, seriously.

Look, if you don't like something, go ahead and don't like it, but the rip-off conversation is boring and tired. Stories come and go. They build off of each other. Sometimes a story is a direct homage to another. Sometimes they coincidentally hit suspiciously similar notes. That's how stories work. (And yes, there are some rare examples of actual plagerism, but even in a lot of those cases I think copyright law is overly conservative - if your take on a story adds to the conversation, then I say that's a good thing.)

"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."

Well, I stopped being a teen a little over a decade ago, but I remember pretty clearly that my classmates in junior and senior high were pretty fond of tossing around the L-word when they barely knew each other, so I think this would be embarassing, but accurate.

I haven't decided if I want to see this one or not. I bought a cheap copy so I'll probably get around to the book eventually, but I have a hard time with the framing concept. I can understand why the social-predetermination thing (see: all the books "ripping off" The Giver) is popular in young adult fiction, but as a world-building device I find it somewhat unappealing.
14. Momgreat
I enjoyed reading the books in a flurry--one, two, three--over a short week's time, so I looked forward to seeing how they adapted the book to the movie. I was impressed how they stayed fairly close to the details of the book for the most part, except for one detail that was glaring to me--Tris wearing eye makeup while she was Abnegation (and her mother also). I kept staring at her eyes, wondering why the producers didn't use the visual cue of no makeup changing to visual makeup as part of the conversion from the Abnegation lifestyle to the Dauntless one. How did she get the makeup on when she couldn't look in a mirror? Just wondering if anyone else thought this detracted from the movie.
15. nightofsnow
I get what you people mean by fear of intimacy does not equal to fear of rape. Even considering what happened to Tris before the simulation, I understand how Tris (of the movie) must have felt like being alone with Four. And that's because of the culture where I hail from. From where I'm from, no matter how much you (think) you love a person, it isn't easy to just give in to lust. We were groomed not to just go under the sheet with someone (especially if it's your first time). Our country is supposedly a nonpractitioner of premarital sex. So most people here still fear having sex even with someone he/she loves.

Just basing on the comments here, I could see the huge gap in culture when it comes to morality between your country and mine.

Here's my review of the movie.

@13: I remember what Michael Sullivan (author of the Riyria Revelations) said about writing books. There could no longer be original ideas nowadays. There are so many people who have written so many things that even if you haven't had access with a specific material, whatever you think is originally your idea is already history by so many others before your time. What matters in writing is that people will have a good read, that they won't get bored. A great example would be J.K. Rowling. She wrote almost all cliches available (that people tried to rid of in the 80s) for Harry Potter that instead of people ignoring the books, Harry Potter became such a huge sell in book history.

So yeah, I also don't like people saying sh*t about something just being a ripoff of another. But I do agree, The Hunger Games is very much similar with Battle Royale.
16. Carelton
LOL at the Battle Royale trolls. Watch "Everything is a Remix" so you don't sound like such ignorant weeaboos. :D

On Topic: The review makes Divergent sound like a good popcorn movie whenever it gets to one of my movie channels. Who knows, I may like it enough to try the book afterward.

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