“The future belongs to those who know where they belong.”
The first in a planned four movie series (it should have only been three), Divergent is a turbulent opening for the young adult book adaptation. Having read it before, I was completely disappointed by the finished product delivered by director Neil Burger (Limitless, The Illusionist). Not everything about it is bad, and having a new director with a different vision for the sequel certainly should work in its favor. At the same time, the movie isn’t all to blame. It’s not a great book, and the completely unrealistic outlook along with almost no reasoning for the dystopian setting doesn’t lend well to the big screen. It has the look and feel of Twilight with a story comparable to The Hunger Games. To say it lacks personality or its own identity is an understatement.
For how much the movie let me down, I was pleasantly surprised by the opening. Burger does a better job introducing the story world than the book. It’s pretty basic. There are five factions that form the entire population, along with those that don’t fit in called the factionless, a fancy term for homeless. Abnegation (Selfless), Amity (Peaceful), Erudite (Intelligent), Candor (Truthful), and Dauntless (Brave). Those are the five categories that each community member must fit into. The teenagers take a test that helps whittle down their decision to one choice. All of them are free to choose any faction, but it is strongly suggested that they follow their test results. These are people who are supposed to know where they rightfully belong. At least that’s what we learn from Jeanine (Kate Winslet), leader of the Erudites.
We meet Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) on the day of her test, and it infuriatingly copies the opening of The Hunger Games in both the book and the movie. Beatrice belongs to Abnegation. She’s reminded by her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort), who will also be taking the test, that they need to think of their family but also of themselves. They sit with their parents under a single bulb in an otherwise dim home while they eat dinner. Beatrice is given only seconds to look at herself in the mirror, and sneaks glances with a spoon. The story stresses the values of her faction and how she feels unsuited for them. But at the same time, we don’t get a sense of her inner struggle like we do in the book. It’s just confusing.
Beatrice takes her test and it’s inconclusive. This is labeled as Divergent, and while we are reminded how dangerous that it is the entire movie, we never know why. She can’t be controlled by the governing powers. So what? Why is that significant? Maybe we’ll find out later. She ends up choosing Dauntless, and the movie makes it seem like she does so because they run through the streets and jump out of trains. The significance of characters’ choices, especially Beatrice’s, lack any resonance or meaning.
I’ll admit the movie gets a little better when it actually arrives at the Dauntless headquarters. We meet the rest of the supporting cast. There’s the evil Peter (Miles Teller), the brutal Eric (Jai Courtney), and friendly Christina (Zoe Kravitz). The main side player is the mysteriously named Four (Theo James). He’s a hard guy to read. He’ll go from nearly nicking the now named Tris, short for Beatrice, in the ear with a knife to giving her googly eyes. Four takes the initiates through both physical and mental training. Tris is lackluster in the physical department, but soars in the mental exercises. They enter a dream landscape and have to conquer their fears, which she does effortlessly.
It had to be hard to adapt this book, especially since so much of it takes place within the minds of the characters. Yet those are the parts that the movie excels at. It sticks close to the source material, and Burger does a decent job creating a world we can visualize that is identical to that which author Veronica Roth painted into her reader’s minds. My biggest problem with the movie, and I hate to admit it, was the choice of Shailene Woodley for Tris. She’s the best up and coming actress in my opinion, and has been a stand out in previous roles, but her work here is not good. Her body movements are repetitive and forced, and she never seems to give any emotion. Even some of her pivotal scenes are forgettable. I hope she’s better in the next three installments, but as of now I’d have to say she was done a disservice by being cast in the lead role. It’s not good when the supporting cast is more memorable than the lead.
This isn’t a challenging movie, and it will make enough money at the box office to keep the franchise slogging along. The book reads very much like a story for teenage girls and they certainly will keep showing up for the movies. But this is just not a good movie. It’s important for people to realize that writing a book and script are two completely different things. A book allows for imagination and creation while a script gives vague directions for how things should look. I hoped the movie would improve the book’s faults, but they only got worse. For example, one scene showing Tris going to her choosing ceremony should have been filled with tension and anxiety. Instead we have to listen to a terrible pop song that does nothing for the moment, and it happens multiple times throughout the movie. It feels like a dystopian future where MTV still exists. Divergent is a 140 minute music video with an $85 million dollar budget.
“Everyone’s afraid of something.”
Rating: 1.5 out of 5