Should Have Spent More Time Being it’s Namesake; Divergent, in Review
Many times on this site, I have gone back and forth on what I think a good book adaptation is. Honestly, I feel like if you are going to make a book into a film, I kind of expect you to make it your own. Stay true to the story but make it your own. If I want the story that is available in the book, then I’d rather use my imagination and read the book. But I guess that would be an “inspired by” situation and not an adaptation, such as Divergent.
In the distant future, a great war ravaged the United States and has left the entire country in an apocalyptic state. In a wall-in city that was once Chicago (the place of choice for destruction in literature now), a society of people have decided on a class system that keeps everything (and everyone) in order. People are divided into five subcategories, called factions: Abnegation (the selfless), Amity (the peaceful), Candor (the truthful), Erudite (the intelligent), and Dauntless (the brave).
Fast forward many years and Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley), the daughter of an Abnegation government official, is preparing to take the test that will suggest what faction she should join. But when her test reveals that she doesn’t fit into any of the factions, called Divergent, she is warned not to tell anyone and to choose the faction she comes from. Will Beatrice carve her own path or stay in Abnegation during a turbulent time for the factions.
I’ve read all three books in the Divergent series, which I enjoyed far more than most young adult fantasy books that have been coming out lately, including The Hunger Games. Maybe the final book in the series, Allegiant, fell flat but still enjoyable all the same. So you would think with this great source material, Summit Entertainment could produce a real competitor for Katniss Everdeen…
But instead of trying to carve its own path, Divergent decides not to be divergent at all. Instead it has been branded, marketed, and filmed as “the next Hunger Games” when it should have tried being original or more faithful to the source material.
Potentially this film could have been both edgy and grown up, but instead decides to play it safe. Why director Neil Burger stays so complacent for a film about being different and revolution is beyond me. I’m not saying R-rated violence or substance is needed, but I none-the-less find it distracting when someone gets a bullet wound and nothing comes out. When did the young adult genre get redefined and overtaken by pubescent preteens?
The standout performance comes from Kate Winslet, which is a bit sad because Shailene Woodley should be the strongest of the bunch. I’m not saying miss Woodley is not strong or puts forth a good performance, but I maintain that she isn’t the best choice for this role. What young actress would have been stronger, though? I can’t really say. Maybe Emma Watson? Regardless, there is a certain amount of verve that is missing for this strong and feminine character. But much to my surprise, I actually enjoyed Theo James as Four/Tobias. That is when he is not attempting to let his English accent stray into whatever androgynous accent he was aiming for.
*Spoilers in this next paragraph. Be thee warned.
As for the rest of the cast, they are mostly forgettable. This really is not their fault though. Again, the fault lies with straying from a strong character-driven story with plenty of action to a film focused more so on the action. This leaves the viewer with murky relationships and without fully understanding the characters. So when Will is gunned down by Tris, you really don’t feel anything because you don’t really feel any connection to the character. Or when Al kills himself by diving into the chasm, you don’t really feel sorry for the lad. Or who even remembers what happened to Edward.
There was a lot of potential here. And a lot of it was wasted. Where there could have been a new king over the YA genre; instead it is just a forgettable foot soldier.
Verdict: Rent it!
*Rated PG-13/ UK: 12A for intense violence and action, thematic elements, and some sensuality. 139 minutes. Directed by Neil Burger (The Illusionist, Limitless).
**Thanks to my friend Cody for seeing this with me.