Okay, I’m back.
“Divergent” is based on the first book in a trilogy by Veronica Roth and as is the trend now, this is part of a movie series that will be a quadrilogy. In “Divergent,” we are taken to futuristic Chicago where people are divided into factions. At a certain age, people are tested to find out what faction they will join, but apparently they can choose. Beatrice “Tris” Prior (Shailene Woodley) is from an Abnegation family, which means she is from a family of selfless public servants. She is given her aptitude test and it comes out that she is a Divergent, which means she has attributes for multiple factions. She is warned to keep it a secret because Divergents can think independently and can’t be controlled. Tris goes to select her faction and she goes for Dauntless, who are the brave train jumpers who also serve as the military force and are kind of viewed by Tris as the cool kids, which I will get to in a minute. Tris struggles in training, but eventually excels and people become suspicious. Meanwhile, a plot is being hatched by the Erudite, who are the smart people who want to be in power. Oh, and since a love interest is required for film adaptations of Young Adult novels, she falls in love with Four (Theo James).
May we please talk about the beginning logic of the film? I understand the whole faction thing since it’s not too far off from dystopian social structures seen in “The Hunger Games” and the fantastic “Legend” triology by Marie Lu. But with “Legend” we see a similar test where people find out where they belong in life. In “The Hunger Games” there are the 12 districts that each specialize in something and those districts are theoretically keeping the harmony of Panem together. But with “The Hunger Games” there’s a very clear upper-class that is served by the districts. The biggest glaring problem with the social structure in “Divergent” is there’s an entire group known as the factionless who live under the L tracks. They serve no purpose in society and it seems odd that in a society where at least one faction is hell bent on killing those they feel are a threat they don’t go and kill the factionless. They serve no purpose other than to be helped by the Abnegation.
But then there’s the fact that all 16-year-olds get tested to find out what faction they belong in, but apparently they can choose–although Tris makes a comment to Jeanine (Kate Winslet), the Erudite leader, that she would rather people don’t go with a choice that strays from what the test told them. So if people can choose and could be cut from their factions if they don’t pass the training, why does the government even administer the test?
Now that I’ve gotten through the problems with the logic, to the other problems with this movie. Woodley and James are just not compelling lead actors. Her acting feels wooden and stiff compared to the supporting actors and she has no on-screen presence. James at least feels like he’s trying, but he is playing Stock Handsome Love Interest and doesn’t do much with the role. Worse is when Woodley and James’ characters kiss I felt like it warranted a shrug, not a cheer. This is THE couple for the movie and I didn’t care that they finally kissed, largely because I didn’t feel like Woodley had any chemistry with James.
I also don’t really care about the characters. Whenever something happens to a character I find myself being unfazed by it. Characters are killed and there’s no emotional resonance whatsoever because there’s not really a connection the audience can make with any of these characters.
There is also an odd unintentional tonal issue with this film. Tris mentions having respect for the Dauntless and almost admiring them and it’s made very clear they are the security forces in Chicago. This feels a little uncomfortable now because of the dialogue occurring in this country around police shootings and police brutality. We have a film set in Chicago–which has a horrible history of police torture–where the main character chooses to join this group that later in the film, while under mind control, does start murdering innocent civilians. It’s completely unintentional, but that aspect of the script and the character feels a little uncomfortable particularly in the current climate.
The film also has horrible pacing because a good half of the film is spent having the new members of Dauntless be trained. Imagine if the training sequences of <i>The Hunger Games</i> occupied as much time as the actual games. After those are done we leap to the climax of the film, which seems abrupt and comes out of nowhere, as if it was realized something needed to happen other than watch Tris train to be a member of this faction. It’s a joyless slog of a movie which features an ending that led me to wonder why there are three more films after this. On the other hand, a good save in the event the film does poorly like “City of Bones” or many other failed YA film-adaptations.
On one final note, this is the second film in this series where there has been an attempted rape of the main character. In “Catch Hell,” Regan Pierce is drugged and Junior attempts to rape him, only to be suffocated by Pierce and then eaten by a gator. In a test given to see Tris’ proficiency as a Dauntless, she is put in a mental simulation where she has a series of trials. In the final trial a virtual Four goes to rape her and she knees him in the nuts and escapes. Please, screenplay writers, for the love of all that is holy, stop using sexual assault as a plot device because you can. Unless you’re going to explore the aftermath of sexual assault, just don’t use it in your plot. Even then I’m not even sure if I want to see sexual assault used as a plot device.
Verdict: Avoid at all cost. You could do so much better things with your time. Even watching “Catch Hell” would be a better use of your time.