Even before the release of the film adaptation of Veronica Roth’s young adult dystopian novel, the film already had a lot to live up to. Not only was it being compared to The Hunger Games, which released its second movie Catching Fire to almost absolutely positive reviews in late 2013 (a well deserved praise), but outspoken lead star Shailene Woodley was reportedly talking smack about film franchises like Twilight even before the tills opened for her first major movie. Luckily for her, the books did have some solid following, resulting in great numbers in the opening weekend, which continued on for the next couple of weeks leading to the greenlighting of the second movie in the franchise. Heck, its been showing in Philippine cinemas for a month now and yet, the theaters were still turning up decent numbers when I watched it yesterday.
Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) is part of a society where its members are segregated into factions according to virtue — Amity (peaceful), Erudite (intelligent), Abnegation (selfless), Candor (honest) and Dauntless (brave). On their 16th birthday, each member of society undergoes as assessment exam which determines their outstanding characteristic but they are still given the choice of which faction they would like to spend their life with. With the motto: Faction over blood, the choosing ceremony is truly a big deal because once the choice has been made, there is no going back. When Beatrice’s (later shortened to Tris) aptitude test proves that she is a Divergent, meaning she possesses not only one specific quality and thus, is a danger to society because of free thinking and refusal to conform — her tester (Maggie Q) tries to protect her by hiding the fact. On the day of the choosing ceremony, Tris chooses to be part of Dauntless, where she meets Four (Theo James), who begins to admire Tris for her stubbornness and determination. As they unravel a plot to overthrow the government, they become allies against the Erudites, whose ambitions to lead society have pushed them to do the unthinkable.
There have been a lot of bad reviews about Divergent, pinpointing a general lack of substance in the film, but I kind of liked it. I think the dissatisfaction is actually rooted from Divergent’s comparison to The Hunger Games, which is one of the best YA trilogies ever. Hunger Games has the advantage, because it has a really solid material to explore for the movie adaptation. I haven’t read Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy but after seeing the movie, I must say it piqued my curiosity enough to pick up the book to see what happens next.
I think the reason why some of the critics became disappointed was because Divergent became more of a chick flick than a SciFi action film they were expecting. This was actually a good thing about the movie because the chemistry between Shailene and Theo is just magnetic. The tension between the two lead stars is just so effective that even one lingering glance or the simple act of holding hands conveys their connection to the audience. Its the type of “you and me against the world” vibe that kind of makes the film center on the two of them as a team rather than just one heroine against all odds. Shailene Woodley is an amazing actress, and her natural sassiness off camera is evident in her performance, making her projection of a strong minded female character so effective. She is just so full of personality that it makes sense for the film to revolve around her. She is also very beautiful. She is more telegenic than photogenic and she is just a joy to watch, even when she is being beaten up by guys. And Theo James? Perfect casting. This dude is smoking. I’ma chick so forgive me for my lapses.
Another thing about the movie. The film shows no mercy. Gender plays no favorites in this society because girls are treated just as roughly a boys and initiates need to work equally hard to deserve a spot in Society’s army. Aussie actor Jai Courtney is truly moving up the Hollywood ladder in bagging parts in high profile movie franchises. He now plays the ruthless and jealous Dauntless mentor Eric and he is just perfect for the role of throwing around initiates and making their lives miserable. I liked the action scenes and the stunts and appreciated the fact that the actors really shaped up to step up their fight scenes.
While it is understandable that the film would revolve around Tris’s training as a Dauntless soldier, being the first installment in the franchise, what is lacking in this movie is a really sinister villain that audiences could hate. Hunger Games had Donald Sutherland and the District system to rally against. For Divergent, despite the politics and the enforced order, there is really no powerful figure that commands fear. Being an Erudite, Kate Winslet seemed less dangerous, relying merely on her intellect to implement the most ruthless underhanded coup. I know Kate Winslet is an amazing actress but as a villainess, she was sadly ineffective. All she did was walk around and talk to Tris, and imply that she was cooking up something big. And that is not enough to hate her. Its such a shame because every good movie needs to have an evil villain. I think the lack of such actually took away from the full impact of the movie. It could have been great if it went that extra mile.
All in all, I would say that Divergent was a pretty solid start to the franchise. Despite its dystopian origins, it stayed young and cool, not depressing at all, despite the odds stacked against the main hero and heroine of the tale. It had great musical scoring and good pacing. Its strong cast and direction from Neil Burger made the movie an entertaining watch. Despite its familiar premise, it still managed to make itself unique enough to be memorable. And in the age where dystopian and post apocalyptic material is king, that’s a pretty good accomplishment.
By the way, Ansel Elgort plays Caleb in this movie, Tris’s older brother. The same actor will be playing opposite Shailene Woodley in John Green’s bestseller The Fault in Our Stars. It will be interesting to see these two in a more romantic dynamic.