Written by Steven Panzarella(@ProCreateSteve)
The Short- Divergent has a big cast but lacks the ferocity of The Hunger games and falls into the YA novel clichés that may make fans happy but not many others. Moviegoers new to the franchise will find nothing but stale dialogue, annoying side characters, and a strangely underutilized villain who only appears for brief moments but never for long. It’s boring first hour is nearly saved once the action begins but a lame and predictable finish makes it catnip for fans but very few others.
Book adaptations are hard to review because fans of the book come into it fully understanding plot and motivations and the characters. They are also hard to review because if you are a fan of the book being adapted you are either overly critical or in the case of the fans I sat in a theater with on Thursday a huge fan. You know the scenes and the characters and you love them. So for me to review Divergent or any book adaptation I need to pretend that there is no book. The book does not exist and it’s only the movie that matters at this moment. I did not read Divergent (a point I make several times during this review) I am treating it only as a movie. Divergent takes nearly 45 minutes setting up its characters and introducing a quite interesting if not similar to that of The Hunger Games plot. Divergent takes place in dystopian Chicago, following a war that nearly destroyed the entire planet but somehow spared the Midwestern city which is divided into five factions. Divergent follows Beatrice “Tris” Prior (Shailene Woodley) a girl who comes of age to decide which faction she will spend the rest of her life representing, she does not fit in with any of the other factions and because of this she is labeled Divergent. (I will not breakdown the entire plot of this movie for that would have you reading this for around an hour)
A movie like this starts and ends with its script, fans will ask how loyal is it to the book? I can't answer that question but according to the fan girls I walked out of the theater behind it was not loyal at all. Divergent is written by Evan Daugherty (Snow White and The Huntsman) and Vanessa Taylor (Game of Thrones) and there script is long winded, it takes so much time to introduce this movie, its plot, why Divergent is important and why we should care about these characters. Once all that set-up is over we are around an hour in to the 2 hour and 20 minute film before things even start to get remotely interesting. The dialogue is stale, unlike The Hunger Games it does not have the colorful or even interesting characters and character development that one would expect from the opening film in a series. Divergent takes too long to hook the non-book readers, we are promised action or at least a few thrills and instead we are introduced to a number of annoying characters whose motivations are never really explained. The first example I can give is bully Peter (a miscast use of the talented Miles Teller) Teller is at his most Draco Malfoy, the witty, funny, filled with personality The Spectacular Now actor is reduced to name calling. What seems like a character that would be redeemed by the end of the film remains the second tier villain who is just plain annoying. Shailene Woodley who seems to be starring in every book adaptation that hits theaters this year (I am much more excited for her role in The Fault In Our Stars), is a bit flat footed (she gives the movies best performance but she is given little to work with) and at time fails to show up for scenes. It's sad to see because with a better script this could have been a fantastic role for the oscar nominee. Tris' companion and love interest Four is played by Brit Theo James, James actually lives up to his characters early billing as a reserved but badass soldier. He may struggle with the accent a little but James is still OK as four especially in the fighting scenes which are fun but few and far between.
Don't get me wrong Divergent was not a total loss, Director Neil Burger's action scenes are good and the visuals of the dystopian city with a number of Chicago landmarks make it pretty to look it but there is not much else there. Divergent has a pretty big cast besides the aforementioned Woodley, James and Teller that includes Ashley Judd (Olympus has Fallen), Kate Winslet (Labor Day), Ray Stevenson (Thor: The Dark World) Zoe Kravitz (X-Men First Class), Tony Goldwyn (Scandal), Maggie Q (Nikita), Jai Courtney (I, Frankenstein, A Good Day To Die Hard), and Ansel Elgort (The Fault in Our Stars, Carrie). Winslet who plays her first notable role as the films main villain, white collared politician type whose power and motivation is never fully explained.(Small plot spoiler ahead) She is power hungry and lusts to remove the Divergents because they are the ones who do not fit in. That is the only explanation we are given throughout the entire movie. We get the why but her motivation, her actual reasoning for attempting to wipe out not only an entire faction but the Divergents themselves is only understood as power hunger. It goes from taking over the government to attempting to murder hundreds of people and we don't understand how we got from one place to the other. (Small Plot Spoiler Over) Maybe I need to read the book to understand it or maybe 30 minutes of this movie could have been cut and the writers should have spent more time working out the story.
At the end of the day Divergent is boring, overlong, and filled with unlikeable side characters and a plot that needed far too much explanation. The filmmakers made this movie for the fans but didn't stay true to the story according to those who read the book. Other than a few fleeting moments of action and memorable dialogue Divergent is just another YA adaptation that does not live up to the billing.