Directed by: Neil Burger
Starring: Shailene Woodley Theo James, Jai Courtney, Zoe Kravitz, Ashley Judd, Ray Stevenson, Miles Teller, Tony Goldwyn, Ansel Elgort, Maggie Q, annnnnnnnnnnnd Kate Winslet.
Divergent is a new release that is based on a bestselling book. It’s set in a futuristic dystopia that has recovered from a war, and the population is divided into different factions that represent different aspects of human nature, like bravery, truth, selflessness etc. Anyone who isn’t part of a faction is designated as factionless, and these are basically analogous to the homeless. During their teen years people have to choose which faction they want to belong to. This decision will decide their future and won’t be changed. Tris (Woodley) doesn’t really know where she belongs, and after some surprising test results she discovers a terrible secret….she’s divergent. This means she’s not suited to any one faction and exhibits more imagination and drive than usual, which could pose a problem for the authorities. While going through her initiation she tries to hide her secret while also trying to survive the trials, but when she discovers a secret that threatens to tear apart the idyllic society being divergent could be the only chance she has to save herself and the people she loves.
So that’s the synopsis of Divergent. I’m going to say this now – if I happened to be a teenage girl I think this film would be one of the best things I’ve ever seen. I don’t mean that in a negative way. I think it acts as a good metaphor for growing up and coming to terms with leaving childhood behind and entering adulthood. It works perfectly for its target audience. However, I’m not a teenage girl so overall I thought it was decent. I think it had quite good action scenes, I liked the casting but there were a few concepts that felt underdeveloped and it felt quite predictable and similar to other films in this vein.
The whole concept of the factions needed more explanation and why some factions wanted power over others. We only really got a decent look at a couple of the factions and to me it wasn’t clear why they would go through everything they did. It also seemed odd to me that Tris goes to this aptitude test and then gets told that something was weird but nobody actually gives her any advice. You’d think for such an important thing there’d be more of a support network. Also, it was never really made clear why being divergent was such a big deal. There was some lip service to the fact that they could think outside the box or whatever, but I don’t think there was enough difference shown between the divergents and the normal people or why being divergent was so dangerous. Furthermore, for apparently such a rare condition there were actually a lot of divergents shown in the film. This lead to another problem, which is common to films, in that upon discovering a divergent the bad guys shoot them immediately, but when they discover that Tris is divergent she’s taken away. Hero characters are always safe!
I thought most of the actors had a lot of charisma that brought life to what would otherwise have been rather shallow characters. A few characters are bad just for the sake of being bad, but Shailene Woodley is really good as Tris. I think she gave a fantastic performance and shifted through various levels of intensity, but also appeared vulnerable when she needed. Her chemistry with Theo James was good but I thought his character arc was almost a complete 180 degrees and I’m not sure it was completely natural. The rest of the cast was pretty good too.
I liked a lot of the action and there were a few moments of light-heartedness which made me chuckle. I thought the zipline scene was really cool and it must be what Spider-Man feels like when he swings through the city. However, I’m not sure how plausible it would be because it goes through a LOT of wreckage and I can’t imagine everyone comes out unscathed. Also, the brake was in the most awkward position possible. As an addendum here, there were more than a few moments where, if you’ve seen a lot of movies, you’ll see a number of tropes and cliches. This led to the finale being a little flat as a lot of the emotional beats you can see coming.
One thing I do want to talk about as well is a seeming tendency in these types of films to spend a large chunk of the movie on the training. I get they want to show how the character changes and how their bond with their new teammates or whatever, but what happened to the good old fashioned training montage? I just think we could get more actual plot, in my mind it’s similar if a superhero movie spent most of the movie on the hero getting his powers and only in the last little bit does he fight anyone. I feel there’s a bit too much time being spent on the training at the expense of the actions that really matter in relation to the overall plot.
Another problem I had is that Marcus (Ray Stevenson), the leader of one of the classes, beat his son. Nobody really seems to care. Apparently because it all happened a long time ago it’s okay and nobody seems to know what happened to his son. Is that how the law system works? The system doesn’t seem to be well thought out. It may be explained in more detail in the novel but it seems like a similar problem that Elysium suffered from, in that there’s a particular system of society that the writers want to show, but they don’t take the time to think about the specific details and how it would work in an everyday environment.
Some of the metaphors were obvious but I think they worked in the context of the film. Two that immediately spring to mind are the fear simulation thing – ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ standing in for having sex, and then the seeming need to stifle your own individuality to blend in with the crowd of drones. I think as a young adult film it hits all the right marks and is absolutely perfect for its target audience. However, it doesn’t quite do enough to break out and appeal to people outside of that group. Woodley’s performance helps balance out some of the flaws of the movie but it doesn’t really do enough to stand out from the crowd. Which is quite ironic considering the point of the story.