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.