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Sunday, March 23, 2014

REVIEW OF DIVERGENT



About The Movie:

Divergent takes place in a future Chicago that exists in the era after a great war. In order to avoid the pitfalls of the former world, the new society is divided into five factions: Candor (outspoken opinionated types suited for legality and politics), Erudite (the brainiacs who love knowledge and logic), Dauntless (brave risk-takers used for policing and military service), Amity (peaceful hippie-type farmers), and Abnegation (Amish-style simple folk who are the only ones trusted to hold public office). At age sixteen, each citizen is given an aptitude test meant to reveal their personality, and soon after, he or she must freely decided for themselves which faction they will join for life. “Faction before blood,” as the old adage goes…

The twist comes when young Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) takes her aptitude test and discovers that she is “divergent” – i.e., part of an anomalous percentage of people who don’t fit into any of the five factions. Beatrice is warned that divergence is a death sentence, so she reinvents herself as “Tris,” a fearless and spirited member of Dauntless faction. However, before being accepted as a Dauntless warrior Tris has to contend with harsh instructors like Four (Theo James) and Eric (Jai Courtney), and jealous fellow recruits like Peter (Miles Teller) – all while protecting the secret of her divergence at all costs.

What Is Good/Bad About The Movie:

Having never read the novel myself, I can’t know how well writers Evan Daughterty (Snow White and the Huntsman) and Vanessa Taylor (Game of Thrones) did with adapting the book for the screen – but knowing the basic summary of the story, I can say that many of the problems in Divergent likely originate at the source. The good parts of the story rest with the premise, the protagonist, and the overall themes about self-identity and defying conformity in favor of individuality. Luckily, those ripe elements of the story are what constitute the first two acts of the film, as Tris finds her faction and navigates the rough training regiment of Dauntless.

Strip away all of the sci-fi, however, and Divergent is just a formulaic but emotionally anchored coming-of-age movie about an impressionable young girl trying to find the right cool clique. These days, everything needs to take place in a desolate wasteland, where attention-starved loners must overcome lethal obstacles to not only discover their identities, but also overthrow a corrupt government and save the world. Forget about having a leisurely day off. 

Unfairly or not, Divergent is being straddled with the same label that has accompanied – and will continue to accompany – every YA feature in a post-Twilight world. Is it the next Hunger Games? Or will it be the latest The Host, Beautiful Creatures, Mortal Instruments, and on and on.

Divergent is better than those films, yet not quite on par with either Hunger Games movies. It benefits from reaching theaters later, though, because it learns a few lessons from the YA efforts that failed before it. Woodley is an expressive young actress whose relatable features invite us on Tris’ personal journey. We feel her pain as she endures physical hardships while training to be accepted by the thugs in Dauntless. Her chemistry with the handsome Four (Theo James) simmers beneath the story but doesn’t overwhelm the mythology – as was the case in the Twilight films, where Bella and Edwards became the whole reason those movies existed. There’s a joyous scene where Tris, after winning a tough game of capture the flag, takes a zipline ride through Chicago’s broken skyscrapers, and because Burger took his time establishing this girl and her world, we’re just as exhilarated as she is by her impossible accomplishments.

It can’t last, unfortunately, and if you know Roth’s book, you know that a gear-shift will attempt to increase the pace of Divergent, to the detriment of the film. Burger’s last act is a silly shoot-em-up of a finale, where seemingly major plot points are barked out in the middle of fire fights. This all might make sense to those who’ve read the book. On screen, these scenes felt like they were from a different, less interesting sci-fi movie and stapled onto the impressive work Burger did during the first two hours. It’s a shame.

That being said, Divergent remains a worthy introduction to a familiar yet still extraordinary universe that hedges its risks to reach a teenage demographic but still teases more than enough potential. It’s the first YA adaptation I’ve seen in a while that genuinely had me excited for the continuation of the story.

Overall Grade: B


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