The main focus in Hollywood is to start a franchise, regardless if the concept allows for it or not. If it’s an original movie, actors are signed to a sequel despite whether or not the film succeeds. And if the franchise happens to be in line with the latest trend — like say the current dystopian-Young-Adult-fever that is currently sweeping the isles of your local bookstore — then it’s even more a go.
Divergent feels like the 700th entry in the long line of “We Want This To Be The Hunger Games But Shhh Don’t Tell Anyone” movie.
And as eager as it is, Divergent is not the next Hunger Games. It tries, but it is not. Is it unfair or poor criticism to compare a film to another? Of course, but when the film so blatantly aspires to be like something else, then its fair game.
For those unaware, Divergent is based off of the best-selling novel of the same name by Veronica Roth. It is about a dystopian future where society has been divided into five factions, each representing a different virtue, and at a certain age, the teenagers have to decide which faction they would like to join and live within for the rest of their lives. Tris (Shailene Woodley, The Spectacular Now) makes a surprising choice and has to endure competitions to prove herself. Tris has a secret though: she’s actually doesn’t fit just one category. She’s a Divergent, an apparent threat to society. Only five per cent of people are considered Divergent and if anyone finds out her secret, it would mean death.
For a film like this to work it must extend outside it’s core fan base and appeal to a general audience.
In short: Divergent ignores any attempt at originality. It very clearly borrows from Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and whatever else you can think of. Which is fine because everything influences everything, but it’s even similar in aesthetic to The Hunger Games — just not at the same caliber.It looks as if it were filmed on the back lot of some studio and without any intent at making it look good. To quote Phoebe Buffay:“We can see the strings, people!” I was waiting for a boom mic to appear in a shot at any time.
I was hoping the cast would excel the work; there are moments in the first Hunger Games movie that aren’t amazing but the cast carries it. Even the Twilight movies, the earlier ones in particular, are carried by the cast (by carried I mean the five minutes of screen time Anna Kendrick has).
While I enjoyed Shailene Woodley in The Descendants, I was not won over by her in The Spectacular Now like everyone else, so I was hoping Divergent would change this. She doesn’t have the emotional range or screen presence to carry the film in the way that Jennifer Lawrence does. This is not to say that she isn’t adequate because she is; she does what she is asked to do but this is not a star making turn. There is a lot of responsibility to carry a franchise, of course, but Woodley’s Tris is not the definable Tris. When in doubt, we trust Kate Winslet (as the leader of the Erudite faction, Jeanine Matthews), but unfortunately, she isn’t given much to do besides hold a binder to hide her pregnancy which gets bigger as the movie gets on. Miles Teller as Tris’ rival Peter is actually somewhat enjoyable as one of Tris’ nemesis, but again, does not have much to do. Theo James’s Four is very one note; he broods, he flexes, he gets upset…
The positive? The final 30 minutes. The film has an illogical running time of nearly 3 hours but the final half hour of the film are genuinely quite good. It’s exciting, it’s fun, it’s every thing they’ve shown you in the trailers and the TV spots. It leaves you wanting more and not in a good way; by the time the film ends, it feels like it just got started and you’re unsure about what day, time or year it might be because you’ve been in the theatre for what feels like an eternity.
For a film like this to work it must extend outside it’s core fan base and appeal to a general audience. The Hunger Games is so successful because even those who didn’t read the books care. The Twilight films burned off so quickly because it never extended outside of it’s fan base. Mortal Instruments was the next great hope, but that never really took off when the film adaptations hit theatres last summer. I read Divergent a few years ago, and the book is better and less obvious in it’s laziness. Will diehard fans enjoy this? Sure, in the way that Twilight fans enjoy the Twilight movies; it gives them what they need and not what they deserve, which is good adaptation. With that said, an adaptation is only as good as it’s source material. The Hunger Games won critics over because it’s source material is genuinely quite good whereas Divergent wasn’t that strong.
Divergent stars Shailene Woodley, Kate Winslet and Theo James. In theatres now.