Monday, 21 April 2014

Film Review: Divergent

The latest in a long-line of young adult adaptations, Divergent is based on the first book in Veronica Roth's popular trilogy of the same name. 

So, what's on offer hear that we haven't seen before? Hunger Games-lite, as many have described it? Or the next big thing?
Set in a dystopian future where the people of Chicago have been split into five distinct factions based on their defining characteristic, Divergent is a high-concept sci-fi drama that has its sights set firmly on the young adult and tween market.

The film follows Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley), a 16 year-old girl who was born into a faction of people defined by selfless acts, Abnegation. Like every other 16 year-old, Tris must undergo a test that tells her which of the five factions she truly belongs, and choose her own future path. The faction system that society is split into looks like this; there's Abnegation, Amity (the peaceful), Candor (the honest/just), Erudite (the intelligent) and Dauntless (the brave).

However, the test tells her that she is in fact Divergent, an anomaly that means she doesn't fit into any one single faction - making her a threat to the powers that be. Any who don't fit in, are considered dangerous. Tris chooses to hide herself amongst one of the factions, nominating to live in Dauntless, the brave. There is political tension brewing beneath the surface however, as a power struggle between the factions threatens to lead to bloodshed.

Okay, so premise aside, how does Divergent stack up? Well, credit where credit is due, the premise is actually pretty cool, one that poses a great "what if?" scenario without being too far removed from certain political situations we find ourselves in today. With undertones of individuality, conformity, courage, love and betrayal, there is certainly lots of meaty morals to chew over too.

The films true weakness doesn't lie in its set-up however, but aspects of its execution. Divergent simply isn't as captivating or unique as some of its other, more successful young-adult counterparts.

On the flipside, the lead duo of Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) are actually pretty good. Woodley in particular did a much better job than I had been expecting - she ain't no Jennifer Lawrence, but she carried the film well.

Jai Courtney (best known as John McClane Jnr. in the Die Hard film that shall not be named) makes a hissable villain, complete with shaved hair and douchey tattoos. The biggest name attached to Divergent is Kate Winslet as villainous Erudite figurehead, Jeanine Matthews. I found that whilst she made for a sly and crafty enemy, Winslet wasn't all that memorable or impactful.

However, there are some big glaring issues with the casting in this film - first up, I swear to God, there were three characters in this film (Al, Will and Peter) who all looked EXACTLY THE SAME. I shit you not, I couldn't tell who was who, even when they were stood next to each other on screen. For some inexplicable reason, the film-makers made the decision to cast three actors who look very, very similar. This problem is compounded by the fact that each of these characters have a specific role to play and they aren't exactly introduced in a memorable fashion.

Another downside is the fairly underwhelming conclusion - without spoiling anything, I felt that the final third (where everything comes to a head) was surprisingly blood-less and bereft of emotional punch. Several characters have big moments in this part of the film, each impacting upon Tris. Rather than falling like hammer blows, each of these moments falls flat with a resounding flump.

Visually, I liked the aesthetic of the film, with crumbling Chicago resembling something between The Last of Us and I Am Legend. Neil Burger's direction was also solid, especially during the trippy simulation sequences.

Something that irked me about this film was the soundtrack - some of the indie-pop tracks that were used simply didn't fit, and I couldn't tell you if there was any original score produced for this film. I just felt that the songs used were often jarring against the tone of the film.

The Verdict: 4.5/10

Divergent isn't amazing, but it also isn't a complete waste of time. It's interesting enough to grab audiences who haven't read the books, but not on the same level as a series like The Hunger Games. I would go back and see the sequel however, so that has to count for something. On the whole, Divergent is passable, if not a solid start to a new franchise. 


  1. I guess fans of the book will absolutely love the hell out of this, but as for everyone else, it will feel almost like a "been there, done that" type of movie. Good review.

    1. Yeah, definitely one for the fans I reckon - I may be tempted back if the mooted sequel transpires, but I don't see this series reaching the same heights as The Hunger Games. Thanks for commenting Dan!

  2. Kinda gotta agree with Dan there. This movie does nothing new, and what it does do, it does so in a groan-inducing manner. This movie was seriously stupid as hell, lol. :P

    1. Yeah, there some seriously big flaws with characters and plotting I reckon - it'll probably still make quite a bit of money thanks to the fans of the book though! :)



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