We are being bombarded with movies like this now, since franchises like Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games have managed to make box office bank. Divergent is the latest book to become a movie and has a lot of shoes to fill, especially on the heels of Hunger Games: Catching Fire, which really upped the ante from the first movie. I went into this movie not knowing the source material and not really knowing the plot.
So does this new franchise stand a chance?
Imagine a future where they split civilization into five groups, each with a very distinct purpose. Beatrice (Shailene Woodley) is born into the giving and selfless group. As they grow up, each child takes a test which determines which group they’re meant to be in, so they may have to leave their family and start a new life. When Beatrice takes the test however, her results are inconclusive, classifying her as a “divergent,” someone who doesn’t conform to the government’s rules. If she comes out and tells people, they’ll kill her, so instead she chooses to join the warrior caste, called Dauntless. There, she trains to become a formidable soldier and tries to avoid detection. However, she soon learns something bigger is happening and must jeopardize her secrecy to save the people she cares about.
Theo James stars as the warrior Four who helps to mentor Beatrice. She is also helped by her new friends (Zoe Kravitz, Ben Lloyd-Hughes, and Christian Madsen). Leaders within Dauntless include Jai Courtney, Mekhi Phifer, and Maggie Q. Kate Winslet stars as the woman who leads the charge against divergents.
People will make immediate claims that this is a clone of The Hunger Games. In setting, it might be similar. But it also has a heavy influence from Harry Potter, especially considering how people are sorted into different groups. This strange combination of these two ideas works pretty well. Of course, there are logistical questions about how these groups intermingle and how society still manages to work, but on a superficial level, there’s something really interesting here. The idea alone may not be enough to warrant a viewing though, so does the film manage to make good use of this world?
Yes. Shailene Woodley is quickly becoming the next big thing, with this being her first big foray into blockbuster territory. She is a stark contrast to Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss, which provides a good place of departure and making these franchises clearly distinct. Woodley’s Beatrice/”Tris” starts off weak. She’s not a fighter. So, a majority of this movie is essentially a training montage. But it works because she needs it. In The Hunger Games, Katniss didn’t need to spend time training because she was already a killer shot. Here, we believe that Tris is not prepared for what’s coming, so we buy into this huge training component and it’s believable when she starts to make progress. It also gives us time to get to know the supporting cast, instead of throwing us into the action with them. This is something that Divergent succeeded in that I had complaints about with The Hunger Games.
Theo James as the mysterious Four (yes, his name is Four) works just the way it should. Maybe he’s a little too handsome, but it’s believable that they have chemistry. He pulls it off.
Kate Winslet stars as our villain and she does an admirable job, though she really only has a few scenes. The scenes she’s in, though, she’s pretty horrible (in a good way). I almost wish there was more for her to do, though.
Since this movie is based on a trilogy of books, you expect that it will end with some sort of bigger problem to face, and the movie did a great job of making me want to know more. While it did cover some similar themes as The Hunger Games, this film might’ve done a lot of them better. It covered a storyarc similar to the whole Hunger Games trilogy in one film, while even elaborating on the training components. It’s tight, concise, and gets a lot packed into the run time. It gets emotional towards the end and Woodley gives some stellar moments in the last chapter of the film.
What doesn’t work?
While the middle section of the film is great character development and time to get to know our heroes (and villains), you don’t really feel the urgency of the situation at hand. The finale is explosive but it kind of surprises you, I wish some of that suspense had been worked in through the middle chapters and reminded us that things were getting intense. I did catch myself wanting to check my watch at a few points.
And I know that the target demographic here is likely high school girls, so there were some really melodramatic moments and awkward flirty exchanges that I could’ve done without, but it was done much better than both The Hunger Games and (obviously) Twilight. It just was a little forced.
I enjoyed Divergent much more than I expected. It’s a cool world with some talented young actors. It’s going to draw obvious comparisons to other films and while Divergent wasn’t the first to do them, it might be the best (so far). Its only flaws are my personal taste and some overdramatic romantic storyarcs that I couldn’t done without. If you like movies like this in general, you’ll likely find a lot to enjoy here.