Review - Divergent

Divergent (2014), PG-13, 139 minutes - I was a little late to the party when it came to reading the Divergent series written by Veronica Roth.  I started the trilogy last fall just before the third book (Allegiant) was released.  Despite that, I have been eagerly awaiting this movie as I tore through all three installments quicker than anything since I had read Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy.  Most likely because they are both considered part of the Young Adult genre. Hey, I'm not a fast reader...sue me.  In any event, I was very interested in seeing how this tale based in a dystopian future Chicago would be adapted.  As far as I'm concerned, they did a pretty good job.

A great war has taken place.  In its aftermath the survivors of Chicago have fenced the remains of the city off from the wasteland left beyond.  Chicago's inhabitants have split into five factions (Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, and Erudite), with each faction providing a different service to society.  Every citizen fits into one of these factions, determined by their aptitude for the traits each faction holds dear.  Divergent follows Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley), a teenage girl who is about to make the biggest decision of her life (whether she will devote her the rest of her life to her born faction - Abnegation - or attempt to pass the trials to become part of another faction). If a citizen chooses to switch factions and does not pass the initiation, they become 'factionless' society's lowest class (basically homeless).  During this process, Tris learns that she is different.  She demonstrates the traits of multiple factions, which is referred to as 'Divergent'.  Tris' tale isn't just a coming of age story set in the future.  It also touches on societal stereotypes, free will, and governmental corruption.

Shailene Woodley does an admirable job bringing Tris to life.  A role that, after Jennifer Lawrence's portrayal of Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games films, appeared to be quite daunting (no pun intended).  She really embodies the innocent, unassuming, yet inquisitive nature of Tris and believably molds herself into the take charge, but still vulnerable young woman that she becomes by the end of the film.  Woodley is joined by Theo James' equally faithful turn as Four.  Stern but supportive, always caring (sometimes more obviously than others), James walks the difficult line of mentor turned love interest without falling into the sappy, over the top black hole that sucks up so many young adult adaptations.  There are a couple of scenes that get terribly close to crossing that line (due primarily to scoring those scenes with popular music as opposed to a more standard score), but luckily those moments are fleeting.  All in all, I'm pretty pleased with the way they treated the Tris/Four relationship (keeping it a side story and not the driving force of the narrative).  Kate Winslet, Ashley Judd, Tony Goldwyn, Ray Stevenson, Maggie Q, Jai Courtney, ZoĆ« Kravitz, and Miles Teller provide good portrayals of their characters in their relatively limited involvement (especially Winslet), laying the foundation for the two sequels to come (Insurgent and Allegiant have already been green-lit and are in pre-production).

It may not do Hunger Games-like numbers at the box office, but that's not very realistic to expect in the first place if you ask me.  Divergent is a very faithful adaptation of the source material which will make anyone whose read the book(s) happy.  If you haven't read the books, just keep this in mind going in: this is the first of three films.  It succeeds in bringing characters to life and sets events in motion for the rest of the trilogy.  If you're looking for a self contained story without any questions to be asked when its over, that's not what you'll get from Divergent.  This is just the first step.  Things get more intriguing from here.


- Author Veronica Roth was listed as a co-producer in the beginning credits.  I'm not positive but I think she even had a cameo for a split second as the first Dauntless initiate through the door on the roof in zip-line scene.

- Kate Winslet's Jeanine Matthews is featured in the film a bit more than she was in the first book.  Jeanine is referred to more often in the book, then plays a more active role in the later books.  Not that she's on screen a ton, but the added presence helps set her up for what's to come.

- If anything, people could probably argue that there are all kinds of holes in the story at this point.  This is very similar to the first book - which focuses on Tris and her development.  The other books flesh out other characters in more detail and provide answers to questions that Divergent doesn't address.

- Mekhi Phifer is another recognizable name in the cast, but he has a very limited role as one of the Dauntless leaders.

- The choosing ceremony and the factions being split into different sections gave me a very Harry Potter Hogwart's Sorting Hat vibe - even though here, the individual made the choice themselves.  I didn't really get that vibe when reading the book.  Funny how seeing it visually instead of in my head made that connection.

- Insurgent is scheduled for a March, 2015 release and Allegiant for March, 2016.


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