After the incredible success of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight franchise and Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games franchise in recent years, Hollywood has gone crazy with Young Adult adaptations that feature female characters in the lead, or original movies geared to that crowd. Many movies have come and gone, such as the adaptation of Cassandra Clare’s first Mortal Instruments novel City of Bones or Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy novel. There are others of course, many of them, but these two adaptations stand as two of the biggest box office failures, the latter more so since it failed to break even the $10 million mark. And now we have the adaptation to Veronica Roth’s Divergent, the first in a trilogy.
Divergent is set in a post-apocalyptic dystopian world where we glimpse a very small slice of humanity, living in Chicago with the city walled off from the rest of the world, ostensibly because of some kind of monsters or some such. This small slice of humanity has divided itself into five different factions, based on their work priorities and once children reach a certain age, they are placed into one of these actions, either by choice or through a… test. What follows should be clear enough I hope. As such premises go, Divergent is mildly interesting. But the story doesn’t hold water, and the acting is also quite sub-par, meaning that the final result and my verdict is a big zero.
To elaborate on what the premise of the movie is really about, we have Beatrice Prior as our main protagonist. She and her family are part of the Abnegation faction, which means that they are selfless by attitude and personality and also run the government of the city, such as it is. When the movie starts, Beatrice, her brother and many of the youths of the city who are of age are about to be tested for which faction they fit into best. This involves injecting them with a serum and making them hallucinate. The method by which they break the illusion determines their faction. As the name of the movie implies, Beatrice is one of those rare Divergents, people who have attributes of all the different factions and thus do not fit into the dystopian social order we are presented with here. Her tester, a sympathetic woman who lost her Divergent brother to the rigidity of the faction system, helps her get out and gives her a strict warning to not tell anyone about her result, and just say that she was tested Abnegation. Which Beatrice does, of course, and waits for the next step of the process.
The next stage is that the day after the testing is done, all the youths are gathered together into a great hall and are asked to choose their faction. Which is really weird because it kind of negates the faction system, but since people can have test results different from the faction they are raised in, everybody has a choice. The only thing is that the decision made in that hall is final, whether the youth goes against his/her test result. Beatrice, long fascinated with the Dauntless faction who are the soldiers and the brave and courageous of the city, chooses Dauntless in a double blow for her parents since her brother chooses to abandon Abnegation and goes for Erudite, the thinkers and scientists and so on.
All of this sets Beatrice for an eventual collision course for the system since her kind are pariah to those in power and because there are rumblings of dissatisfaction against Abnegation for the faction’s support of the miserable faction-less of the society, and because the Abnegation are just generally weaker in power than either of the other factions. As Beatrice learns, Divergents are a threat to society, to the fabric of the social order, and so they must be put down, by any means necessary.
Phew, that was quite a mouthful, all of that. On to the review proper.
The plot for Divergent is one of the most boring that I’ve ever seen. There is a distinct lack of tension in the story since everything is telegraphed in the first fifteen minutes of the movie, and all my predictions for what would happen as the story progressed came true. I wish I had been wrong on every single count. The majority of the movie is taken up with setting the scene for the climax. Beatrice has to learn how to fight, how to train herself physically and mentally to be a fighter, to be brave and courageous by actions and thinking as much as by her supposedly innate needs, as her choice proves. These were the most banal of all the scenes in the movie, largely because they lacked heart. They lacked excitement.
And that holds true for the entire movie really. When a story is as predictable as this, it is extremely hard to enjoy. The story does absolutely nothing to set itself apart from all the others of its cadre. Where Twilight is concerned, at the least you feel either a strong attachment to or a strong distaste for the characters. Where The Hunger Games is concerned, you can get lost in the beautiful visuals, or the visceral violence or the strong fight against diversity that defines these movies. The same cannot be said of Divergent. I haven’t seen either Vampire Academy or Mortal Instruments so I can’t comment on them, but the trailers I saw for either didn’t make me want to go and watch them, although the latter did seem slightly interesting.
Divergent is a movie where I felt completely divorced from the characters. There was never any point in the movie where I felt like I could care about what happened to Beatrice, or Tris as she calls herself on joining Dauntless, and Four, who is our other protagonist. Played by Shailene Woodley and Theo James respectively, the two characters are mildly interesting but they loose their charm as the story progresses, because their characterisation follows the oft-beaten path and is just horribly cliched all the way through. Some of you might jump at me with a pitchfork for saying this, but I’m being entirely honest when I say that I’d rather have a new Twilight movie rather than watch Divergent. I found Bella to be a far more intriguing character than Tris, partly because whatever her character did, there were real consequences in the world around her, for her friends and family. With Tris, things just happen and she moves along with the flow. She never really takes charge.
There isn’t any violence in this movie as there is in The Hunger Games or its sequel Catching Fire or even the let-loose kind of all-out action in the Twilight franchise, but yet Tris gets beat up regularly enough while she is training to be a member of Dauntless. Right from when the new members of Dauntless first start their hand-to-hand training with those ridiculous en garde positions to the end of the “training”, I felt little emotion. I wasn’t invested in any of the characters. And predictably enough, Tris starts out at the bottom of the rankings and then goes on to be better enough that she makes the final cut. What really got to me about the training was the absolute final test, which was a repeat of the test to place her with the appropriate faction, except that this one is much more extended and there are people watching the live feed to see how she breaks all the illusions. In short, they are hunting for Divergents or those who just don’t fit with Dauntless in this case. In this final test, in her penultimate challenge, there is an attempted rape scene, and it bothered the hell out of me. Sure, yeah, there’s some romance between Tris and Four, and I didn’t really mind any of it, but to have a scene where an illusory Four tries to rape Tris? That was a low, low moment as far as I’m concerned.
In general, the acting by any of the characters didn’t faze me. They played characters who were all cliches and none of them grew out of that. Even seasoned actors like Ashley Judd, Kate Winslet, Tony Goldwyn, Ray Stevenson, Jai Courtney failed to deliver. The biggest non-performer here was Kate Winslet, who plays Jeanine, the leader of the Erudite faction. The story props her up as the big bad villain, but Kate’s performance was extremely lackluster. Once again, I just could not feel any seriousness or excitement and it ruined the movie for him.
The movie was already ruined about 20 minutes or so in, because of how hard it was hitting me on the head with its predictability. And the pacing was slow. It was tortuous. I honestly had half a mind to go ask for a refund. If only that could have happened. And all of this before we even consider the racial diversity of the movie.
I don’t know. Like I said, I’d rather the entire Twilight franchise than sit through Divergent. Halfway through the movie, I was slumped down my seat, just waiting for all of it to end. But I had spent the money, so I suffered through it. Divergent is definitely one of the most disappointing movies I’ve seen to date.