divergent has all the ingredients to make a spectacular blockbuster in the vein of the hunger games films: a story about a dystopian society based on a best-selling YA novel, action, visual effects, a love story with good looking leads, and capable actors in smaller, interesting roles. although, comparing this film to the hunger games or to divergent the book will result in some disappointment.
divergent has a less engaging lead in shailene woodley (the descendants, the spectacular now). woodley has shown her ability in the descendants with a raw and true performance. her portrayal as the heroine, tris, falls a bit flat. you are introduced to this from the very beginning where tris summarizes the story in a dull narration, that sounds as if she’s reading the jacket on the book cover. those going into this movie having not read the novel will find it helpful with its information, but get nothing from it cinematically. i’ll give you the run down, so you don’t have to rush buying your popcorn. the film takes place in future chicago where society is broken into 5 factions based on your dominant personality trait; erudite (intelligent), amity (peaceful), dauntless (brave), candor (honest), and abnegation (selfless). when the youth turns 16, they must choose which faction with which they will live the rest of their lives. choosing another faction other than the faction you’re born in results in leaving behind your family. “faction before blood.”
this drab voice-over sets up the first act as nothing more than exposition, unashamedly told to the audience, seldom shown. it seems as though the filmmaker is aware of this and thus the beginning feels rushed. a “let’s just get to the action, already” feeling. i actually almost missed the title card informing us that the setting is chicago. it’s just peppered in there amongst the opening credits.
at the end of the choosing ceremony you can feel the shift from simple story explanation to cinematic storytelling. after tris makes her choice, i felt that excitement and anxiousness with her. now we’re getting somewhere. this is the feeling i want when i go to the movies. thankfully the movie finds its groove, successfully combining plot information with vivid drama. introducing interesting characters and locations ups the film’s ability to captivate.
the better performances include theo james (underworld: awakening) who provides the love interest, four, and jai courtney (jack reacher) who serves as eric, a good villain among many obstacles that face tris during initiation. zoe kravitz (after earth, x-men: first class) is a bit miscast as tris’ new friend, christina. baby face miles teller (21 & over, project x) who was adept at playing the romantic lead opposite woodley in the spectacular now, isn’t persuasive as peter, tormentor and fellow initiate of tris. ashley judd falls short in giving us another strong female role with her weak portrayal of tris’ mother.
as an older reader who has read this young adult novel, i was expecting many eye-rolling inducing romantic scenes. i, being a misanthrope when it comes to mushy romance, was pleasantly surprised. they were not as dramatic or angsty as they dangerously could have been. the love story within divergent will appease any lovesick fangirl or any sensible grown-up. i was delighted that the romantic portions were not only tolerable, but compelling.
another satisfying revelation was the care and thoughtfulness of the director in regards to the special effects. the book and futuristic setting provide an opportunity to go overboard with the FX just for the sake of using FX, but it was not abused. there is “a beauty in their resistance.”
the ending diverged (i had to use it at least once) from the book’s finale, but i couldn’t complain because it gave the flawless kate winslet more screen time as erudite faction leader, jeanine, which i found i had been unknowingly craving throughout the film. the strong ending with exciting action and tension is brought to a halt with (ugh) more voice-over, bookending the film with vacuous narrative. it’s consistent with the rest of the film, teeter-tottering between it’s good and bad qualities.
non-readers will enjoy a good romp through this intriguing story and the readers will love the ammo they can use when saying the book is better.
rating: 5.5/10 (points deducted mostly for the 1st act and i-read-the-book-itis)