Author: Evan Daugherty, Vanessa Taylor (screenplay); Veronica Roth
Release: March 21, 2014 by Summit Entertainment
Director: Neil Burger
Genre: Dystopian/Science Fiction
Today I went to see, for the second time, the film adaptation of Veronica Roth’s YA dystopian novel Divergent. Book to movie adaptations are often disappointing in one way or another to bookish people like me, so I thought I’d have a go at reviewing this one for anyone who was unsure if they wanted to see it. The marketing campaign for the movie was HUGE, with commercials, posters, social media, sneak peeks (like on the new Catching Fire DVD release), and just a whole lot of hype, and often movies with that much excitement surrounding it disappoint in a major way. But I have to say that this time, Divergent delivered.
For anyone unaware of the plot or needing a little refresher, here’s a summary of Divergent:
In a post-apocalyptic Chicago, the citizens are divided into five factions according to their personality, and each faction has their place in the running of the city. Candor, who value honesty, run the court system. The Erudite value knowledge and pursue the advancement of science. The people of Amity are peaceful and work the fields surrounding the city. The Dauntless are brave and operate as the security for the city. Beatrice, the protagonist, is a member of the Abnegation, who value selflessness, and operate as the government. When the people of Chicago reach the age of 16, they take a test that tells them which faction they have an affinity for, but the citizens are allowed to choose which faction they’d like to join despite which result they get in the test. The test tells Beatrice that she is Divergent – a very rare result that means she is suited for more than one faction. She decides to join Dauntless – and changes her name to Tris – as she’s always loved their bravery. However, her capabilities mean that she does not fit into the social order of the city. The leaders of the world in Divergent believe that by segregating people into factions will ensure that order will continue to hold and war will not break out again. Tris threatens that order by not thinking in a singular fashion, and so, as she finds out, she is being hunted down.
Dauntless initiation is highly competitive, and it forces Tris to figure out who her friends really are. She also begins a sometimes confusing but overall promising romance with her initiation leader, Four. However, Tris’ secret threatens to be discovered while a growing conflict threatens to destroy the supposedly perfect society in which she lives. Tris’ Divergence could help save her friends and family or it could kill her in the process. Let me just quickly say that I REALLY enjoyed the novel. I thought that the world that Roth created was completely believable and perfect for its dystopian genre. The characters were well-rounded, and you really felt for them as they went through initiation and what followed. The romance between Tris and Four was not overpowering and was interwoven into the story in a way that fit well into the rest of the plot. It was pretty well-written, entertaining, and left me wanting to read more. If I’d reviewed it on here, I would have given it an 8 (freaking fantastic). I will say, however, that I was not a big fan of the second book in the trilogy, Insurgent, and had mixed feelings about the last book in the series, Allegiant.
Now on to the movie: First, the actors. I was a little apprehensive when Shailene Woodley was cast as Tris. But she proved herself, at least to me. Her portrayal of Tris felt honest, endearing, fully formed, and well-done. I enjoyed watching her on-screen development and thought she did a fantastic job of getting the audience emotionally involved. There’s one scene in which she practically has a breakdown that had my heart breaking because her performance was so realistic. One of the best parts was her chemistry with Theo James, who plays Four. The two operate well together and their romance was one of the most believable things to me in the movie. Then you’ve got Zoe Kravitz, who plays Tris’ friend Christina, an Erudite transfer. There’s Ashley Judd as Tris’ freaking awesome mom. We’ve got Miles Teller as the hilarious and rude Peter, a Candor transfer. And then we have Jai Courtney as the Dauntless leader Eric, the seriously sadistic bad guy. I thought the performances by all of these actors were completely on point, perfect casting. I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but the only performance I thought was a little disappointing was that of Kate Winslet, as Erudite leader and creepy creep, Jeanine Matthews. Her portrayal was a little flat, almost stiff, and while I can appreciate that as potentially part of Jeanine’s character, it just felt odd.
I think this might have something to do with the script, which overall, is good. Just good. It’s even a little cheesy in some parts, like when Jeanine quips that Tris is “a poor blend of impulses and impurities” or when Four has this brilliant revelation that a vial he found HAS to be a simulation inducing serum. Duh. Also, the last 20 minutes or so of the movie were like a competition to see how many times they could include the word Divergent. However, there were several parts of unexpected humor that I quite enjoyed.
I’d say that the main change that hurt the movie was the development of the characters. As much as I enjoyed the performances by the actors, Tris’ best friends in the novel (Al, Will, and Christina) are somewhat pushed to the side in favor of Tris’ and the storyline’s progression. This is completely understandable, but a few of the characters’ were so pushed aside that when one of Tris’ most painful deaths to handle occurs, the audience barely has time to process, let alone actually have many feelings about it. My friend who joined me for the movie hadn’t read the book, and she said she barely felt bad about the death, which saddened me because it felt as if that character didn’t get the appreciation he deserved because he was so badly developed. I wish that a little more time had been spent on the secondary characters from the novel. These changes result in some missing context, and this means confused audiences members, particularly those who hadn’t read the book. Actually, this occasionally means confused audiences members who HAD read the book (e.g. some of the climactic scene had me going “WHAT the heck is going on?)
On a more positive note, the visual effects and cinematography in the movie are wonderful. The use of mirrors in Tris’ faction affinity test is beautiful as well as terrifying, and much of the time while in the simulations is completely awesome. The portrayal of the Dauntless, both before Tris chooses them and after, is brilliant, full of glee, terror, passion, and bravery, and I enjoyed pretty much every minute of seeing them operate as a faction. The movie also creates a believably decaying Chicago, fenced in by a huge, electric fence. One of the first things we see is a giant, grounded ship, rusted, crumbling, and looking to have been there for hundreds of years. I also enjoyed the faction costumes, which impeccably portrayed the way Roth describes the way the factions feel, if that makes sense. The people of Amity look like happy hippies, with long, flowing skirts, loose hair, and tunic-like tops. Candor is clad in pure black and white, the way in which the Candor see the truth.
The bottom line: This movie was highly, HIGHLY entertaining, action-packed, and powerful. Other than some changes with character development, I thought this was a pretty good adaptation. I’d definitely recommend seeing this movie in the theater, as the fear landscapes, fight scenes, and decaying world are super cool on the big scene. I enjoyed this movie so much, I saw it twice.
Rating: 7 – Pretty good
Divergent is rated PG-13 for violence, some obscenity and disturbing thematic material.