Teenage novels have swayed the film industry ever since Harry Potter took off. Once it was a financial success, the industry looked to the Twilight Saga and then most notably, The Hunger Games. These films also set a precedence of breaking up the last film into two separate films, thus raking in more cash. All of these books follow similar tropes and schemes, but it’s the subtle differences that set them apart. We had Wizards and Muggles, Vampires and Werewolves, Districts and Tributes, and now we have Factions and the Factionless.
Beatrice (Shailene Woodley) grew up in Chicago, after a great war ravaged the world. The city has been sectioned off and dived into five factions. Dauntless were the brash and bold who patrolled the city. Abnegation were the selfless, who helped the factionless. Amity were the peaceful. Candor were the brutally honest and Erudite were the knowledgeable. Beatrice and her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) grew up as Abnegation, but they’ve reached the age of the aptitude test that will reveal what their faction is. Still, they have the choice to pick any faction they want. When Beatrice’s results are inconclusive, she panics and decides to join Dauntless, as she always dreamed of running alongside them. Her parents (Tony Goldwyn & Ashley Judd) were upset, but they had to return to aid Abnegation and their fight to remain the governing faction, especially with Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet) of Erudite trying to overthrow them.
As a Dauntless in training, Beatrice changes her name to Tris and faces physical discouragement at every turn. The faction leaders, Four (Theo James) and Eric (Jai Courtney), train the new recruits in am effort to see who will stand out. Tris is easily the weakest of the group, but her determination and goodwill towards others sets her apart. Four notices her and takes a liking to her, but suspects something is up when she flawlessly passes her aptitude tests, which are meant to reveal your fears and how you handle them. It’s now, that Tris learns that she is Divergent, meaning that she embodies all 5 factions and can’t be controlled by the system. This is dangerous, especially with Erudite trying to eliminate all Divergents. Within Dauntless, Peter (Miles Teller) and many others suspect her, but Four will devote his time to training her and to keeping her safe. Can the Divergents stay safe with Erudite poised to overthrow the government?
Divergentis the latest Young-Adult series to hit the silver screen and it’s one that shares many traits with The Hunger Games. There are divided groups that have separate strengths and the government is keeping the people down. Where Divergent sets itself aside, is with its unique characters and the process by which the factions are chosen. The premise, if not a bit borrowed, is intriguing and there are a lot of cool things in this film to keep you invested. The film does need quite a bit of work, but the good outweighs the bad and this film is enough to hold you until the next one.
Shailene Woodley has been an indie heart-throb for a few years now and Divergent is her “big break” into larger Hollywood films. Despite that, she maintains her subtle beauty and Outlook on the world and plays Tris wonderfully. Her range of emotion is phenomenal and every decision she makes comes after she analyzes it with every ounce of her body. Her reactions and emotions are genuine and she does the most with what she has. She also kicks ass and displays a great amount of love for a certain somebody. Theo James also holds his own against Woodley, as he’s newer to the scene than she is and the amount of care he has for her is very admirable. He’s one of the more likeable teen-novel characters and he too, kicks a lot of ass. The two work wonderfully together and they make this film a lot more fun to watch.
The world of Divergent is set against a post-apocalyptic skyline and everything looks really cool. The crumbling buildings and giant fence set a dark tone as to what happened and you and the characters are left to wonder what lies on the other side. The five factions all have their own cool headquarters in respect to their strengths and the tension between them is built well. There’s an X-Men-like feel to the Divergents being outcasts and being hunted and they play off of that trope quite a bit. The supporting characters all conform to their factions and embody the ideals they support. In turn, they send those ideals out to those who are different and create an even more hostile/tension-filled environment. Teller and Courtney come off as the biggest assholes in the film and they really make you hate them by the time the credits roll. In a film all about choices, the audience is given enough to form their own thoughts on the characters and how everything happens in the factions.
The dialogue in this film is borderline atrocious. Recycling garbage writing from other young-adult novels, Divergent is chock-full of romance and seriousness that never comes across as real. The tension is there, but the film never advances it and everything becomes stale after a while. The dramatic scenes are overly dramatic and the simple scenes are over-complicated. The actors really try to sell the crap that they’re given, but everything still feels odd. The characters and events all fall into archetypes and nothing feels new in this film. Everything happens for some absurd reason and the film just goes on its merry little way and doesn’t bother with explaining some things. There’s just a lot that doesn’t work in this film and it’s frustrating.
This film is two-and-a-half hours! There is absolutely no reasons for the first film in this series to be this long! The runtime is excruciatingly painful and the film feels that long. There are moments of excitement that go by in the blink of an eye and then it’s back to more character development. With such a long time, you’d think that you could flush the characters out with ease and still include a lot of what drives the movie. I get that the book is big, but films are adjusted to hold their audience’s attention. I felt like I knew the characters at a certain point and then they just kept going and going. There also weren’t too many action sequences to make that time worth it, but the action was pretty awesome. All the interesting parts of the film aren’t given enough time and the end resolve is settled in a rather short period of time. Director Neil Burger needs to manage his time better, especially if he wants people to come back for a sequel.
Divergent is like a bag of trail mix. The M&M’s are representative of the awesome action sequences and the interesting Sci-Fi elements of the story. The rest of bag is representative of the long runtime, the surface level filler information, and the setup for the next film. Nobody wants that. We want to be consistently entertained and we don’t want to deal with things we don’t care for.. Had the character development gone faster, I’m certain that I would have liked this film much better. Well, I would have also liked characters who weren’t surface level deep after a couple of hours too. Oh, and some more action and less cheesy sequences that contradict the whole film.