Thursday, August 14, 2014

Movie Review: Divergent

Directed by: Neil Burger.
Written by: Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor based on the book by Veronica Roth.
Starring: Shailene Woodley (Tris), Theo James (Four), Ashley Judd (Natalie), Jai Courtney (Eric), Ray Stevenson (Marcus), ZoĆ« Kravitz (Christina), Miles Teller (Peter), Tony Goldwyn (Andrew), Ansel Elgort (Caleb), Maggie Q  (Tori), Mekhi Phifer (Max), Kate Winslet (Jeanine), Ben Lloyd-Hughes (Will), Christian Madsen (Al), Amy Newbold (Molly), Ben Lamb (Edward).

I read the Divergent series of books, even though the first one wasn’t very good, the second one was worse and the third book was downright awful. I understand the appeal of the books – and the movie – especially to teenage girls who have to be sick of playing secondary roles in male stories all the time. But shouldn’t they want something more intelligent that Divergent? A dystopian future that at least makes some sort of sense, which this one never really does? The best thing about the movie version of Divergent is Shailene Woodley’s performance as Tris – the heroine – who plays a nearly impossible role as good as it can be played. But overall, the movie left me rolling my eyes more than anything else. Teenage girls deserve better than this.

The story takes place in a future version of Chicago. Apparently the rest of the world has been wiped out, and the founders of this new society have split the survivors into different factions – Erudites, who believe in knowledge, Candor who believe in truth, the Dauntless who believe in bravery and the Abnegation, who believe in selflessness. Everyone snugly fits into one faction – and if you don’t, you end up factionless – rejected by society and your own family. When you turn 16, you get to choose your faction. Most stick to the ones they are born into – but not all. They go through a test in the days leading up to the choosing – which is supposed to tell you where to go. Tris, who isn’t sure what she should choose, is counting on the test. Then she gets her surprising result. She’s none of them. She’s divergent. Her tester, Tori (Maggie Q) tells her not to tell anyone. If they find out, she’s doomed. She ends up choosing Dauntless, but is scared of being outed. Her instructor, Four (Theo James) seems to hate her – but won’t stop looking at her, so we all know what that means.

In terms of an adaptation of the novel, the movie pretty much dispenses of everything that isn’t related to Tris and Four – fairly major characters in the book are barely a presence in the movie, meaning their various betrayals and storylines to lack any real emotional impact. Still, the movie is still two hours and twenty minutes – and feels longer – so something had to go. They didn’t want to lose the swoon worthy teen romance, and need the various tests Tris has to endure to become a Dauntless – something that isn’t guaranteed like she thought it would be.

Woodley is good as Tris – who is an outsider from the start, as the rest of the factions of don’t much like Abnegation, especially Dauntless, and then she has to try and fit in with them. Woodley is a talented actress – she proved that in The Descendants and The Spectacular Now, and she has been far better than the two movies she has made this year – this, and The Fault in Our Stars. James is a little bit of a blank slate as Four – he doesn’t have much personality other than his smoldering good looks, and the movie doesn’t require him to do anything else. Most of the rest of the cast is just as forgettable – save for Kate Winslet, as the villain, who is the only character given more scenes than they had in the book – presumably because she’s Kate Winslet.
When Twilight became an unexpectedly huge hit, you knew Hollywood was going to raid other Young Adult series looking to replicate that success. It’s been worth it in films like the first two installments of The Hunger Games – legitimately good movies, based on legitimately good books – but for the most part, we have been served forgettable movie after forgettable movie. Divergent is no different. It’s a hit now – and the next two (or three) movies will be hits as well – but they will eventually be forgotten when the target audience grows up a little and realizes how silly the books and movies are. At least, I hope so.

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