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Divergent – Movie Review

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Divergent – Movie Review

Rating: C- (Below Average)

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The idea of a dystopian society presents many opportunities for an interesting premise on how a future world protecting itself to extremes might operate. Divergent’s notion of a government system that places people into separate factions based on their personalities holds a lot of potential. However, the final result is a surprisingly un-engaging story that doesn’t hold up particularly well upon further reflection. Strangely, one of its biggest faults lie in coming out a little over a month after The LEGO Movie, which shares a similar plot and themes. This makes it a little hard to take the concept too seriously, especially since the talking bricks tackled that commentary in a lot more entertaining and intelligent way.

The premise of the young people of future Chicago being divided into different personality-based segments immediately falls apart at the start of the film. The teenagers are given a hallucinogenic test that reads their mind and chooses their faction, but when they are allowed to choose their preferred area of interest shortly afterwards, it begs the question why such a test exists. The reason is for merely plot convenience so that the main character Beatrice can find out she is non-conformist. However, this makes the society not particularly threatening and too complicated for its own good. For a world intended to be organised, its plans are strangely messy and not very well thought out. In comparison to the ruthless Panem portrayed in The Hunger Games, Divergent’s depiction of a dystopian future comes off as easy-going. It also leads to a basic misunderstanding of human psychology as people do not have one single character trait. If that was possibly the point screenwriters Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor (adapting from Veronica Roth’s book) were trying to make, it is not presented very clearly. The obvious intent to make Divergent a franchise results in the film not going into further detail about the mechanisms of this society and why Divergents are considered a detriment rather than an assist. This also means that the eventual resistance plot feels shoved in there, merely as a preview of events to come.

Character development is mostly non-existent with the exception of Beatrice, who does make a natural progression from willing participant to plotting individual. Shailene Woodley gives a very sympathetic performance that makes her easy to like, while showing the necessary toughness as she grows and evolves through the course of the story. Theo James, playing the athletic Dauntless with something to hide, is a bore with little personality and the sudden jump into a romance is very jarring. As much as Woodley tries, they share barely any chemistry with each other and the same applies to her friendship with Zoe Kravitz. Jai Courtney and Miles Teller are handed the most one-dimensional characters in the film, playing the requisite antagonists whose only character requirements are to make snarkey remarks towards the protagonist. Kate Winslet certainly brings her acting chops to the malicious leader of this society, but her character is underwritten to the point of even monologuing her evil plan at one point.

Its social commentary on conformism and the way our society is obsessed with labels rather than individuality seems like it could work in a compelling way, but it’s not explored to its fullest potential. The scenes in the Dauntless training area could have especially used a jolt in serving as a criticism of the way young people are shaped through their education and the attempts at highlighting political corruption also don’t gel. While this is no fault of the film, as the book was published in 2011, the similarities to The LEGO Movie only makes the material seem that much weaker by comparison. Winslet’s Jeanine Matthews is hardly that different from LEGO’s President Business as she seeks to keep the various factions separated in neat, little boxes with little interaction and the Divergents serving as the Master Builders of this world. This is not a criticism of the filmmakers, who were very likely unaware of what Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were putting together, but it does highlight how underdeveloped the themes are, especially when plastic toys can portray these ideas to much more brilliant effect.

It’s easy to make comparisons to The Hunger Games, as these are both young adult adaptations portraying teenagers competing in a dystopian society. However, it is its own entity, just not a very compelling one with barely-dimensional characters that will obviously be explored more in sequels that may or may not happen. It’s bothersome when movies are built around franchises that aren’t guaranteed to continue, but even more-so when it affects the quality of the films in the series. The potential is high for the next entries to better expand on this world and its inhabitants, but as an introduction, it lacks a lot of the energy and entertainment value that makes viewers eager to see the subsequent adventures.

Review By: Stefan Ellison


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