Set in a dystopian Chicago, the city has been broken up into factions sparked by an old war. The separation of society based on different virtues - Abnegation (selfless), Dauntless (brave), Candor (honesty), Erudite (intelligence), Amity (kindness) - is meant to be the new world's pathway to peace. At the ripe age of sixteen teenagers must choose an official faction and leave their old life behind. Beatrice Prior, the main protagonist of the series, is a member of Abegnation navigating her way through the Dauntless world. However, there is more to her selection ceremony results that force her to realize she doesn't belong in this new compartmentalized society. She is Divergent - a member of the factionless that can't be mindlessly controlled by the government.
Based on the worldwide phenomenon by Veronica Roth, let me be the first to say that I didn't have high expectations for the film adaptation. My book review can be read here, however, let me summarize that I thought the film wouldn't be worthy of anything except to see Shailene Woodley and Kate Winslet. However, my expectations were proven wrong. Director Neil Burger (of the forcefully cerebral Limitless) accomplishes a fun entertaining young adult flick.
To deliver the books' coming of age of not letting society choose your destiny is the wonderful Shailene Woodley. I tried watching the movie without any preconceived notions - because I heart this girl so much. Similar to Jennifer Lawerence as Katniss Everdeen in the first Hunger Games film (not Catching Fire), Woodley is prime to helm this series. As Beatrice Prior turned Tris, she delivers kindheartedness, determination, strength, awe, and selflessness. I felt like for as hardcore as the "don't underestimate the youth" message there was in the film, Woodley doesn't cheapen her role but breathes an authentic depiction into the character. Her turn as Tris - not so far from The Spectacular Now or The Fault In Our Stars in terms of starring in YA films - turns her abilities as a young growing actress like a skilled chameleon.
Britain import Theor James portrays Four - one of the leaders and trainers of Dauntless - who inevitably becomes Tris' love interest. He aids and protects Tris as she moves up in the ranks as one of the faction's prime new recruits and other initiates are threatened by her selfless courage. Though sometimes appearing way too older for Woodley's young character of sixteen, at times it felt a little awkward to watch their relationship grow. However, it's not something that seriously detracts from their characters or friendship. As Woodley's main counterpart, James is certainly delicious eye candy, but more than that I felt like they had true chemistry.
A major issue I had with the book was that every character had a strong sarcastic personality making it impossible to establish each one. The movie splices up the personalities just so so we can connect with Tris and her friendships without wafting into melodrama. Even though young Kravitz's performance is limited, I was thankful I could tell the characters apart.
Kate Winslet as the central antagonist brings forth other feelings. I'm the first to admit my fangirl addiction to her compels me to see anything and everything she stars in - I would've tossed my money to the wind to see Labor Day which received atrocious reviews. As Jeanine, this powerful Erudite believes human nature has allowed people to diverge (pun) from their true characteristic wasn't exactly all there. Going back to the story, it leaves very little room to divulge on her intentions and motivations as this ruthless dictator is far-fetched. Her performance is a bit limited by the lack of build-up to why she is the wizard behind the curtain but she is far from being labeled as miscast.
The first half of the film trails Beatrice's transition from selfless to brave, and in the second half of the film introduces the major conflict of Jeanine's character wanting to rule the world. For those who haven't read the series, a thorough understanding about the factions is missed also by readers who have only read the first book. There really is nothing substantial missing from the big puzzle piece of the series. Roth limits her world by not offering more background in the first book, instead of waiting for the third and final installment. The second half of the movie still seems to come out of nowhere, even though I've read the first book. The movie propelled me to read the rest of the series - if I could stomach it.
Because of the lack of worldbuilding, Divergent fully addresses and pushes the coming-of-age theme. Unlike Harry Potter and The Hunger Games that delves into other worlds and making them seem familiar, Roth's book and subsequently the film remains a realistic interpretation of our real world. There's no magic, no girl on fire taking down an illustrious rich Capitol, no vampires or werewolves - it's just a young girl trying to decide for herself who she is not based on the constricted qualities made up by society or parents' expectations. The cast, script, and action sequences atone the lack of world-building.
If the Harry Potter Sorting Hat + Everdeen's rise against the Capitol had a novel baby, it would be Divergent. On this level I concur with entertainment critics, however, I don't think the atrocious reviews the movie received was necessarily warranted.
Prior to the movies' release, there was an interesting simultaneous praise and backlash to the movie delivering on hype and questioning if we needed to anticipate a movie so highly before its released - especially YA series. Quickly squashing that bug and any chance for the movie to succeed on its own merits, critics ripped it apart just as they did Mortal Instruments, Vampire Academy, and Enders Game. Limiting the narrative of popular YA flicks to the girl on fire (Hunger Games) and the boy who lived (Harry Potter), other series are not constructively analyzed despite the range of entertainment value, themes and characters. Trying to filter their negative criticism, I kept expecting this to make a major turn from good flick to B-disaster, and it didn't.
On the whole subject of the Divergent film, the book was sorely missing some cinematic impact - which when I read it seemed to be unbelievably laughable. Thankfully, cutting out 200 pages of cliche prose and sticking to Beatrice and her mission, there was a sustainable amount of scenes I recognized and was happy to see remain. Bringing to the screen action, romance, and a versatile female character and performance by Woodley, the film is thrilling enough to be worthy of the running time. In fact, I'd venture to see it at least one more time in theaters...and then some.
Which do you think should've won - book or movie?
Which do you think should've won - book or movie?