Published on April 9th, 2014 | by Chris Scott0
Summary: Divergent does deliver is a solid foundation upon which to build future films
Ever since the massive success of Twilight as a film franchise, companies have been mining for gold in the Young Adult fiction section of your favorite book seller. Sometimes, like with the Jennifer Lawrence-led Hunger Games series, they hit the mother lode. Other times, like with last year’s Beautiful Creatures, the crossover appeal never happens and the studios are left with a lump of coal. The latest mining operation is for Divergent based on Veronica Roth’s series of novels and it may be the diamond that Lionsgate was looking for.
Divergent takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where society has reformed into a tribal-like system based on particular attributes like honesty, selflessness and bravery. When children reach the age of 16 they must decide which faction best suits them. While they have the final choice of where they will end up, there is a test that can help direct them. This test, something like the sorting hat in Harry Potter but with a dentist chair and dream serum, figures out the best location for each teen based on choices they make in the dream simulation. Everything revolves around Beatrice (Shailene Woodley), who does not fall nicely into one of the traditional categories making her a threat to the order of this society. As such, she must hide her divergence from the system to everyone. When she must choose a faction, she leaves her family behind and joins the macho, thrill-seeking warrior clan, Dauntless.
Like the book it is based on, the film does not do a great job of explaining why things are the way they are and important questions like why are those that are divergent a threat, are barely answered. However the dynamic that this mysterious approach presents is an intriguing one. It is also a familiar dynamic, one with many similarities in it to The Hunger Games including its dystopian world and strong female lead rebelling against the standards of her society. Beatrice, who adopts the cooler name Tris, does not have the immediate strength that Katniss does in The Hunger Games but this allows her to be more relatable and ultimately more likeable.
Tris’s arc in Divergent is one of a teenager unsure of herself growing into a confident young lady that finds herself part of a larger movement within her own society. Woodley plays the role near perfectly. She is adorable as Tris and a joy to watch on screen but she is outshined by her co-stars Theo James, Ashley Judd, and Kate Winslet. James plays the heartthrob Dauntless trainer Four and his connection with Woodley is strong both physically and emotionally. Any scene he is in makes Woodley glow. Judd, who is woefully underused as Tris’s mother, is a shining example of where both Tris and Woodley will hopefully end up. But it is Winslet, in a very dark turn, that truly steals the show. Evil from the get-go, she only grows more fearsome as things progress. Winslett delightfully chews up every scene she is in.
Acting aside, director Neil Burger handles things quite well. The scenery is breathtakingly beautiful and depressing in the same instant. The action is strong and intense. And outside of couple of padding instances to satisfy the hardcore fans of the book, the film is paced nicely. Not everything works perfectly though. Tris and Four are well-developed but the other Dauntless initiates are skimmed over, giving little context for Tris’s interaction with them, good or bad. As mentioned Judd is underused and as a result the reveal involving her at the end of the film is not earned. Adaptations of this magnitude are hard and Berger certainly does his best to create a film that works for both fans of the novels and those that are new to the story as well, but it doesn’t always pay off.
Possibly the worst aspect of the film though is the ending. Mirroring Tris at the end of the film, the ending of the movie is very confident of its future as a series. While enough threads are wrapped up that I didn’t feel cheated, Divergent leaves a lot of questions unanswered, hooking you towards the inevitable next entry (already in production). And going in, even though I knew this was part one of a three part series, I still left feeling a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. It assumes its own success, and that is a bit presumptuous. Fortunately Divergent does deliver is a solid foundation upon which to build future films and regardless of the financial success of this film (which so far has been strong), Woodley is a star in the making.