Ladies and gentlemen…welcome to the most pointless film of the year, part 2.
It is glaringly obvious that the movie version of Divergent is influenced by the success and popularity of The Hunger Games and sadly this underwhelming film did not deliver.
“The system removes the threat of anyone exercising their independent will. Divergents threaten that system. It won’t be safe until they’re removed.” – Jeanine Matthews
Set in a futuristic world, society is divided into factions based on a person’s virtues. Teenagers in this society are given the opportunity to select which faction they want to belong to based on a standardise test. Tris (Shailene Woodley) undertakes this test and discovers she is a divergent, a person who has the ability to choose their own free will without conforming to society’s rules. She hides in a faction (Dauntless) hoping not to be discovered but she befriends the mysterious Four (Theo James). Together they uncover a mystery where divergents are hunted and killed. In this seemingly perfect society, can Tris find a way to stop the threat?
I’ve not read the books (and probably not going to after this watching this) and I am a sucker for sci-fi but for something that looked like it had potential ended up being a complete waste.
Truth be told, this world that Tris lives in doesn’t make sense and ten minutes into the film I wasn’t convinced. War, factions and yelling out “she’s a divergent” left me confused, leaving me with more questions than answers. What was this war and why did it take place? The notions of factions – the suggestion was for peace but who decided on that? Divergents – what were they? Ok, they were people who didn’t conform to a pre-destined faction. They had free will…was there anything else about them that made them special?
Sorry if these questions sound stupid but humour me. For a film adapted from a bestselling book, why (for a newbie like me) did I feel like key information from the book was left out in the script? Because for something that would have provided greater context to the storyline and this dystopian world just went missing. In fact, the introduction of this world and the factions was introduced so quickly that ten minutes in you don’t have a clue what’s going on. This simplified fragmented story boils down to a young girl who wants to ‘hang out with the cool kids’ aka Dauntless. Trying to explain the greater scheme of the plot and the nature of divergents towards the end was just pointless.
That leads to another point. Why was this film so long?
Running at about 140 minutes was pushing it. If the story was engaging, 140 minutes would have been a breeze. Divergent…I became bored very quickly. The first hour and a half was like watching a very long training video as Tris is turned into a soldier, building her confidence and fearlessness in order to be accepted by her new faction. I’m guessing no one has ever heard of a montage…
Connecting back to the plot, whilst they’re training and doing that “best of the best’ competitiveness, not once during this bloated run time do you sense any threats or dangers. Why would you build an army if this supposed dystopian world is going through peace? If their aim was to protect the world from the people who were without a faction, the film doesn’t highlight their threat. This would have been the perfect time to re-enforce the book’s premises and ideals but ended up lacking any kind of suspense or purpose for what Dauntless were doing besides the stereotypical phrases such as “Dauntless never give up.” By the time the plot got to the main point, you realise that there’s only 20 minutes left of the film!
“You’re different. You don’t fit into a category. They can’t control you. They call it Divergent. You can’t let them find out about you.” – Tori
The characters leave a lot to be desired. In a similar situation with the fragmented script, the characters lack depth, probably missing a lot of key information about their past and their motivations.
I couldn’t connect with the character of Tris. I didn’t find her compelling and her own personal investigation about divergents just seem to pop up whenever it felt like it. I know the whole premise is about fitting in, especially with Dauntless and their tough training regiment but it felt more like she just wanted to belong rather than discover why divergents were treated as the enemy. I actually found myself laughing when someone close to her died and she starts acting like a badass, giving orders whilst making a stand against the mindless Dauntless and Jeanine. You would have thought all those training sessions would have built her up prior to this scene – she did go through two phases of training! She also throws the weakest punches I’ve ever seen…
Then you have Four who suddenly without much reason or motivation teaches and educates Tris through the training. Without much development, they fall in love but it’s handled like some clichéd and romanticised scene rather than something that happens gradually. Plus I felt no chemistry between the two characters. Again I had to laugh at one scene where he’s brainwashed to kill Tris. When she threatened to kill herself, he suddenly comes back to normal – again without explanation. I don’t think Four is a divergent but it is evidently clear that there is more to him and why he was unaffected by the programme but having not read the book, I’m not quite sure if the film handles that aspect well.
Divergent also has an overbearing and distracting soundtrack that kept on taking me out of the moment. Any sign of Tris feeling liberated, whether the zip line scene, running to join her new faction or even kissing Four, it was pop soundtrack time as if I was watching One Tree Hill or The Vampire Diaries. This film didn’t need it – save the soundtrack for what it is…music that accompanies the end of the film. Play the film score instead.
Whilst it’s unfair to compare this to The Hunger Games, at least in that particular saga there’s a better flow and balance around it, whether you love the movies or not. The Hunger Games makes an effort to establish it’s dystopian world and give it context and meaning. It also helps that the script allows the star talent of Jennifer Lawrence and Donald Sutherland the platform to showcase their best. Divergent doesn’t do this, sacrificing balance and impact for something that feels watered down.
The potential is there and I’ve enjoyed Neil Burger’s previous directorial work. I just wouldn’t class this as one of his best.