johnlink ranks DIVERGENT (2014)

The newest lit-to-film cash cow is the series which starts with DIVERGENT based on the trilogy of books by Veronica Roth. I went into DIVERGENT the same exact way I went into HUNGER GAMES. I knew the series was popular, I knew they were both set in post-apocalyptic futures, I knew both had female heroes, and I knew both had an adoring fanbase. If DIVERGENT could prop itself up to the same standard as THE HUNGER GAMES films, I’d be quite alright with that…


I watched DIVERGENT (2014) in theaters on 3.29.14. It was my first viewing of the film.

The opening of this movie is pretty awful. Tris (Shailene Woodley) provides a dry and information laced voice over which tells us all about the five factions of people which make up post-apocalyptic Chicago. We then learn that she is in the faction of do-gooders. Her conflict arises from being more complex than that. She feels the urge to be among the warrior class. It turns out that she can pick where she wants to be. After a twist regarding the title which I won’t ruin for anyone that hasn’t read the book (though it’s probably in the trailers I never watch), she chooses to train and be with the warrior class.

Once she gets there, the movie picks up considerably. She has abandoned her mother and father (Ashley Judd and Tony Goldwyn) because the rule is “faction before blood”. This also means that she has been separated form her brother (Ansel Elgort) who has gone off to join the egghead faction, which I think is called Metaluna, or something. She begins training with a guy named Four (Theo James) who treats her rough but is also super cute. There’s a one-sided villainous trainer, Eric (Jai Courtney), who is out to make the weak look bad. Hovering over all of them is the powerful Jeanine (Kate Winslet, cashing a paycheck). Jeanine is also in the egghead/intelligent faction and she has an evil plan to overthrow Tris’ old super-nice-people faction which currently rules over the land.

While the story, as my tone may give away, is somewhat juvenile, the movie gives it a good run. Woodley is more than capable of carrying the female-lead torch and I absolutely buy her as the vulnerable and willful Tris. The movie focuses solely on her, however,  leaving the motivations of the auxiliary characters without nuance.

While the poor opening feels derivative in theme and tone to HUNGER GAMES, the movie is able to stake its own ground a bit in the second and third acts. DIVERGENT, however, never feels like a story talking about a whole world. The effects are not poor, but they feel as though they lack texture and detail. The city of Chicago feels too small, especially if the idea is that not too many people remain in it. We get a a large gate, a gloomy foreshadowing of Winter Coming in future movies, but even the view from atop that lacks scope.

For a big sci-fi trilogy, this movie relies almost entirely on its female lead. Where HUNGER GAMES used the first movie to introduce a world ready to explode, DIVERGENT feels like a world ready to fizzle out. While the film itself is entertaining, and absolutely worth it for Woodley’s determination alone, the writing does the story no service. Without having read the books, it is fairly easy to make the leap in logic to see that many of the side characters were turned from depth-filled world fillers to single-minded plot devices. Despite its two-and-a-half hour run time we learn precious little about anyone but Tris and Four.

The plot points which turn the tides of the story are fairly predictable, if not unsatisfying.  Again, Woodley plows through this to make it all work. But she deserves a stronger second film. I’ll be there for it, because DIVERGENT fills a certain entertainment need, but I won’t be eagerly anticipating it the way I was with CATCHING FIRE.






~ by johnlink00 on March 30, 2014.

2 Responses to “johnlink ranks DIVERGENT (2014)”

  1. These types of movies are just getting stale now. While some of them may be the least bit interesting with the ideas they present, most of them just seem to be saying, or doing the same thing. Good review John.

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