Movie #245 2020: Divergent (2014)

Ah, the Young Adult novel series turned movie series craze. Remember that? I mean, it turned out pretty well for The Hunger Games so why not make this similarly post-apocalyptic, dystopian series into films too? Well, there are a hundred reasons why not, actually. But let’s see if this stands side-by-side with the above average Hunger Games series or if it pales in comparison.

In a near-distant future, the world has been divided into different factions dependent on personality type. Tris (Shailene Woodley) quickly comes to realise that rather than fitting in with one faction, she is what is known as ‘Divergent’; a multitude of layered personalities rather than just one. When she finds out that bad guy Kate Winslet is hatching a plot to rid the world of divergents like herself, Tris makes it through her training at her chosen faction (‘Dauntless’) and manages to acquire a group of allies along the way in an effort to thwart the plan.

I’ll start off this movie review by ignoring the movie altogether, and instead praising the author behind the book series. To put it concisely: what a fun, original idea for a series this is. It’s definitely a topic that lends itself to film and it translates quite well, although more could be done in the way of character development on screen. Whilst Woodley does her best to bring every ounce of charisma that she has, it’s very difficult to really root for the majority of these characters a lot of the time, and I’m guessing – although I have not read them – that this is not the case within the original novels. Again, Woodley does an average if not admirably decent job as the lead, but wouldn’t it have been fun if Zoe Kravitz played the main character instead of the sidekick? Kate Winslet was obviously fabulous though, and it was great to see her step outside of her wholesome, English rose comfort zone. 

I’d also hazard a guess that Divergent is so poorly rated because it doesn’t live up to the books that spawned it. However, we all know that a film adaptation being just as good as its source material is a rarity, and this is no different. As I’ve already proved above, there will be comparison between this and The Hunger Games too, but guess what? THG was a rip off of Battle Royale so that series is hardly entirely unique either. Sure, this borrows elements from past films, books and TV series, but for the most part, it’s a pretty fun watch.

Perhaps most surprising to me was that the cinematography is brilliant in this. It is clear that there was a humongous budget attached to the whole thing (it was slated to be the next Hunger Games, after all), but most of the CGI and framing is really nice to look at regardless.

Where this goes wrong is that there’s very little explanation regarding some of the factors within it, leaving the viewer highly confused. And – I’m assuming, once again – that is where the books are better. A novel has endless time and use of description attached to it, whereas a movie does not, and it really takes a perfect script to encapsulate a narrative as thoroughly as a book has the privilege of doing. Sadly, this is not the perfect script, and it leaves you to connect the dots and tie up any missing plot threads by yourself. ‘Use your imagination and figure it out’ is the mantra that appears to emanate from this, essentially.

While this is an exciting fantasy world, the film is too long. There are parts which should have definitely ended up on the editing room floor. However, the majority of it (especially the action/fight sequences) was entertaining.

Spoiler: I have watched the second instalment of this franchise since. Stay tuned to find out what I thought of that in the coming days…

Divergent is available to stream on Netflix in the UK.

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