11 August 2014


It's been a while since a film outright confounded me as much as Divergent does. The Hunger Games is a series that has its problems, on the page and to a lesser extent, on the screen, but based on this adaptation, I can't fathom why anyone would invest in this. As far as I can tell, the target audience is people who take quizzes on Zimbio and disagree with the result. Because I can be more than one Power Ranger at once, right?

The plot is far too convoluted to fully explain in the usual short span of this introduction, so the gist is that it's set in a dystopian future where the post-war government controls the population by sorting them into castes based on single personality traits. Using the synonym function in Microsoft Word, these factions are Dauntless, (brave) Erudite, (smart) Abnegation, (selfless) Amity, (happy) and Candour (honest). During her sorting process, Abnegate teenager Beatrice Prior discovers that she's more than one of these things at once, and thus classified as Divergent, starting a chain of events that will take her away from her loved ones and on the path to revolution.

Summit Entertainment has already announced that they're doing the Summit thing of splitting Veronica Roth's trilogy of books into four films, (see also: Breaking Dawn, the upcoming Mockingjay) leading to inevitable pre-emptive grumbles in the movie news press. In the Divergent series, I anticipate that this is chiefly going to be a problem for anybody who has trouble believing that the system of government portrayed here is going to take three more movies to fully collapse.

Beatrice, who dubs herself Tris after she willingly sorts herself into Dauntless aka Jock House, is represented as special because she's capable of having more than one personality trait. That's the low bar that the story sets for the rest of its characters at the very beginning and the continues to stumble over it for its entire stultifying length. It's the kind of film that has a lot of exposition to get through anyway, but that's only exacerbated by the tendency to either repeat everything or introduce new information a moment before it becomes important to the plot.

I usually rate Shailene Woodley as an actress but she's landed a thankless lead role here, either expositing for all she's worth or frowning her way through the motions. She gets a love interest and mentor in the form of Theo James' Four, who looks like Dave/James Franco combined, but has nothing approaching their talents when it comes to acting. Though "sexless" is an attribute that can be taken as read for these movies, romantic or otherwise, that's not a matter of intercourse or abstinence here. Instead, the dead-eyed lack of chemistry between Woodley and James makes the early chastity of Bella and Edward in the Twilight saga look like Lars Von Trier's Nymphomaniac.

Their battle against the forces of smartness is depressingly predictable too. There's only one of those aforementioned factions whose principal trait could be turned to something both villainous and threatening, unless the (barely featured) happy farming faction decided to take on their more downbeat neighbours with rakes. The script has no short supply of repetitive monologues, so these are the first resort of the baddies, particularly Kate Winslet's Erudite arch-villain and Jai Courtney's thick-headed and antagonistic trainer. There are endless reserves of screen time dedicated to re-explaining this stuff alongside a feature-length training montage, while the deaths of major characters, in whom we're supposed to be at least passingly invested, go by without rumination or even remark.

While I'm hardly a staunch defender of the Twilight saga, that series was seldom as aggressively terrible as this cynical franchise kickstarter. There are similarities to its Summit stable-mate in terms of budget and execution- you can count on the Divergent sequels looking as cheap as this one does, even though the fans will have made it profitable enough that any conscientious producer would give a little back to them in terms of production value. But at least Twilight was always earnest to a fault, whereas this feels utterly empty.

That Divergent suffers so much in comparison to Twilight should basically tell you most of what you need to know about it. It chunders its exposition through the nose from the start and continues along those lines for a 140 minute endurance test. It makes appalling mincemeat of a wide array of talents, who are variably either trying and failing to engage, or worse, coasting for a big pay-cheque. As a footnote, I mentioned in my review of The Fault in our Stars that the series will likely have a problem going forward in that Woodley and screen brother Ansel Elgort were more convincing and likeable as lovers in the well received teen cancer movie. Having now seen this one, that's the least of its problems. The sequel, Insurgent, arrives in cinemas in March. I really can wait.

Divergent is now available on DVD, Blu-ray and video on demand services.
If you've seen Divergent, why not leave a comment below? Points to anyone who can explain to me if I'm wrong about Miles Teller being the fucking worst omen about a film's quality.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

1 comment:

Jay Moussa-Mann said...

I couldn't put the books down. I finished the trilogy within about 10 days. When it came to the movie I felt they stuck to the book - too much. It was like they simply copy pasted the book onto screen without any development or alterations or making the film it's own story. It felt lifeless. Obviously it's a hard one to make into a film because so much of the story is about feelings and what is going on in the mind. Very hard to translate into film without proper screenwriting and I think that's where it all fell short. Screenplay and character development.