(Scored out of ten; below 5 = not worth seeing, 6 = ok, 7 = good, 8 = great, 9 = fantastic, 10 = next to perfect)
Directed by Neil Burger from a script by Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor, Divergent looks very much like a cheap attempt at recreating the success of The Hunger Games but a closer look reveals much more. Divergent drops the bombast of THG in favour of much deeper character development and a social critique of societies tendency to try and categorize everything. It does use a lot of the same imagery as its direct competitor but, in my opinion, it uses its set up much more effectively. This foray into the overcrowded YA genre offers some great performances from its leads alongside a compelling story (for the most part). While Divergent doesn’t necessarily bring anything new to the young adult genre, it does everything quite well resulting in an entertaining watch (even if it does drag a bit at times).
Let’s begin with the positives, of which there are quite a few. As mentioned above, the leads of this film do a truly commendable job with the material. Shailene Woodley is a definite standout. I have only seen her in The Secret Life of an American Teenager and thought all of the acting was appalling, including Woodley. She far surpassed my expectations. Woodley was able to infuse Tris with a level of real depth and emotion throughout the film. We really got a sense of the struggle to find herself. Constantly going back and forth between where she stands in a world with such clear boundaries. Her reactions to all of her hardships and difficult questions were incredibly believable. Tris’s evolution throughout the film was delivered with heart making the character and the world around her a more believable one in comparison to other YA films. I could never really back Katniss from the Hunger Games but I found myself rallying behind Tris and her allies right from the start.
Theo James as Four was also a highlight in the acting department. His intentions in the beginning of the film were quite enigmatic, making his reveal later on in the story all the more meaningful. He was also featured in a number of solid action beats; he really pulled off the dark and brooding rebel. The relationship between Four and Tris was very well done. One of my major qualms about the Hunger Games movies was the seemingly random nature of the relationship between Katniss and Peeta. In Divergent ample time is given to their budding romance making it completely believable and genuinely entertaining.
The supporting cast around these two up and comers was also well constructed. They all played their parts well; the fate of Al (played by Christian Madsen) was unexpected and made quite the impact. It really went a long way in showing just how much these kids were going through and the amount of pressure they must be feeling. To know that if you aren’t considered good enough you will be out on the streets, and to what lengths will you go to to ensure you make the cut? The inclusion of Zoe Kravitz got a laugh out of me, not because she doesn’t do a good job (she does with the little she has) but because her dad was involved with Divergent’s direct competition. Not only do they share common themes but they have family amongst them as well.
In what took me by surprise, the usually amazing Kate Winslet delivered one of the worst performances. She came off really flat and the characters motivations didn’t make any sense to me. As leader of the smartest clan, why would you want to wipe out the clan consisting entirely of nice people? If there was a valid reason (the entire group was divergent?) than the writers did a poor job of explaining that. Winslet seemed to have phoned this performance in early, giving a very bare bones delivery and not adding anything that would make her character stand out from the rest of generic villains riddled amongst Hollywood films. Another weak link comes from Miles Teller. Known for his comedic portrayals, Teller comes off extremely sarcastic with no redeeming qualities. Now that may be an issue with the character but his performance did not win him any favours. It also casts some doubt on whether he can portray anything else than the “funny guy” particularly with his upcoming FF reboot. Miles Teller’s character did not add anything to the film, acting as a bully early on he was by and large superfluous.
Most of the running time was dedicated to character development, a welcome tact when compared to most other young adult fare that Hollywood churns out. We really get a sense of what these children are going through and how the messed up classification system affects them. The movie did drag a bit in parts but was mostly enjoyable. The only major complaint was the villain’s motivation. Throughout the entire film we are told that they want to weed out all those who are divergent than suddenly they’re committing genocide. Either the director failed to get their true motivations across or they’re saving the answer for another film. That being said, there is definite potential in this franchise and I find myself looking forward to the already planned sequel.
Overall I give this film a 7.7/10