Review: Divergent

Posted by Matthew on March 21, 2014
Movies, Reviews

Divergent

There’s a fine line that adaptations of novels have to walk. Leave too much in and you risk your movie becoming plodding and boring. take too much out and you risk dumbing down or losing a theme or moment or sub plot integral to that story. Nowhere is this more clear than with Young Adult novels. Because they are generally fairly easy to follow in the first place the smallest choice a director makes can have drastic consequences for the movie you are making.

Case in point, Divergent is a movie that I am sure is based on a good book that discusses and explores interesting themes, but the movie itself glosses over all of this to tell a pretty by the numbers story about a girl in a not-that-dystopian future.

As the story begins Beatrice “Tris” is on the eve of her sorting day, the day when she will put on the sorting hat take her aptitude test to see which of the houses factions of her society she fits into. There are five to choose from, the kind ones, the smart ones, the selfless ones, the quiet ones, and the super cool parkour running brave ones. The test will tell her which of these factions she belongs in but at the end of the day no matter what happens she is free to choose so other than an excuse for a few clever effects shots I’m not really sure what the test is for.

She tests positive for three of the factions, which is a big deal for reasons that aren’t really explained, and when she chooses she goes with Gryffindor Dauntless, the parkour running brave ones who show how brave they are by constantly running parkour all over the city.

Yeah, it’s pretty bad is what I am trying to say here.

Most of the rest of the movie deals with Tris and the new initiates to Dauntless training and trying to not get cast out of the faction. When the actual plot actually gets moving in the third act the lack of explanation from the first two acts, such as why they have a faction system or why the factions were organized a certain way or why being Divergent from the system is a big deal, really hamper any investment in what’s going on.

One bright note is that the leads, Shailene Woodley and Theo James, are actually both pretty good. They’re both young and good-looking and engaging but they do have chemistry together and that’s all that really matters. Miles Teller also stands out as the bully character in their class of initiates.

Ashley Judd plays Tris’ mother and she’s fine, and Kate Winslet is Jeanine, the main evil villain of the story who Tris will eventually overcome. That might a spoiler if basically everything in this movie wasn’t so blatantly telegraphed.

Also, I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, I don’t know who decide that Jai Courtney needed to be in movie, but Jai Courtney doesn’t need to be in movies.

So there it is. Divergent wants to be another Hunger Games or Harry Potter but it indulges in so many clichés that it really just feels like a knock off of those bigger franchises. It’s disappointing really because like I mentioned above you can totally tell that there are some interesting things in this story that have been completely glossed over in the adaptation.

Hopefully Insurgent does a better job of adapting the story, explaining what’s going on, and gives its stars some better material to work with. Still, I resent this movie all the more for making me wait until the second installment just to find out what the hell is going on. Movies need to stand on their own merits and Divergent does not.

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  • Meh… I feel like you’re giving the book too much credit, honestly. I read it and sort of enjoyed it in the same way I enjoy soap operas or kraft dinner… but mainly it just made me want to know what happens. I made it through Insurgent and it got worse so I’m not bothering with the third. The whole story is waaaaay too cliche and a bit too juvenile (the “love story” is not handled half so well as the one(s) in Hunger Games… it really does just play to a 14 year old’s idea of lust, really, and that’s infuriating but probably helped it sell a lot of books?)

    • There were just so many things in the movie that where stated but not explained. Like “we have five factions” but never “here’s why there are five and what the thinking behind each is” or even why they can never see their family again if they switch? Or if the factions are physically segregated or not? Seems like they were but then anyone can go where they please?

      Also, why is being divergent a big deal? Why is it a threat if you can just choose whatever faction you want? I feel like there’s potential for interesting answers that are only tangentially touched on if at all.

      spoilers in next paragraph

      And yeah, the love story was a bit much although I did like that Tris was all “let’s not move too fast” when they finally got together instead of pledging her undying love as sometimes happens in these movies.

      • Yeah that stuff is kind of explained in the book but not completely… it’s a bit half-assed, the “history” of why everything is the way it is and blahblahblah… I dunno, I did enjoy the “strong female” aspect of it, the fact that they pit boys against girls and show that they each have strengths and weaknesses and that they can play on the same team, etc… honestly I could have done without the love story entirely, it seems so completely irrelevent to everything.

        Being Divergent is a big deal because they can’t be controlled, mainly? That becomes more clear as the books wear on.

        • Sorry by “pit boys against girls” I think I meant more that they didn’t segregate them in Dauntless and do the typical “boys are stronger” thing.