Divergent is what I’d like to call a ‘nice’ movie. There’s nothing here terrible offensive but at the same time, it doesn’t break new ground either. The direction is more than adequate and the performances are good. But for all the good, the story structure is odd with the bulk of the time relegated to the training with another plotline almost an afterthought taking over the third act.
Genre(s): Suspense/Thriller, Science Fiction, Drama
Summit | PG13 – 139 min. – $39.99 | August 5, 2014
THE MOVIE – 3.5/5
Note: This review contains major spoilers concerning the plot. Please skip this section if you don’t want to learn details about the plot.
Courtesy of the Twilight Saga, also from Summit, every studio seemingly snatched up any available Young Adult property in the hopes of finding the same (financial) success. Summit struck gold again with The Hunger Games ($1.55 BILLION worldwide total between the two HG films). And now they’ve return back to the well in the hopes that some oil can be drilled. The output is Divergent, a film based on the “Worldwide Bestseller” and although it’s not bad, it should’ve and had the opportunity to be so much better.
Our story begins in an undetermined despotic future in Chicago where the outside world is scorched earth due to some world war and inside the city citizens are broken up into what are called factions: Abnegation (Selfless), Erudite (Intelligent), Dauntless (Brave), Amity (Peaceful) and Candor (Honest). If you don’t belong to any one of these, you are considered “Factionless”, people who did not complete their initiations into the faction and are more or less cast out to fend for themselves doing the work others won’t do (i.e. janitors, constructions workers, etc.) and in exchange receive the basic necessities to live. Although this aptitude test may put them in a faction, it is up to the individual to choose and once it’s made, in what’s aptly called the “Choosing Ceremony”, there’s no going back.
And then there are those who don’t fit any and yet every category: Divergent. Upon taking test, administered by a woman named Tori (MAGGIE Q), our main character, Beatrice Prior (SHAILENE WOODLEY), is given sage advice to not tell anyone and shoves her out the back door.
In the meantime, there is also political (faction) turmoil going on as the Abnegation, to which Beatrice and her family belongs, with her father (TONY GOLDWYN) working closely with the faction leader (RAY STEVENSON) and mother (ASHLEY JUDD) handling the household duties along with the daily routine of helping the factionless as prescribed to the Abnegation faction. She also has a twin brother, Caleb (ANSEL ELGORT), who chose to. However, it is believed someone within the Erudite faction is spreading nasty rumors about the Abnegation leader, though it’s not hard to guess that it’s in fact faction leader Jeanine Matthews (KATE WINSLET).
At the Choosing Ceremony, despite being thought of to choose her family’s tradition and go with Abnegation, she instead goes with Dauntless, a faction she has admired all her life. Now the real work begins as the Dauntless are, of course, known for being fearless so she first has to jump from a moving monorail to a rooftop, on said rooftop, where she meets the incredulous Dauntless leader Eric (JAI COURTNEY), must then jump off a ledge down a dark hole to a waiting net at the bottom. Being the first one to volunteer, she also gets introduced to who we know will be the love interest, Four (THEO JAMES), faction transfer instructor. At this point, she also is given the chance to change her name to which she chooses “Tris”.
So begins the strenuous training where she bonds with a Candor named Christina (ZOE KRAVITZ), while also butting heads with our resident jackass, Peter (MILES TELLER), who looks down on Tris’s kind (the Abnegation nicknamed “Stiffs”). As she struggles with the training, and with the Dauntless keeping only some of the transfers which would leave the rest factionless, she also learns that somebody is hunting down the Divergent kind for their independent thinking so she must tread lightly not being able to trust anyone.
Obviously as an audience member, even those who have never read the books, knows where the story is going especially when it comes to Four with his reveal quite a bit later in the film…
So, where does Divergent stand compared with the numerous other Young Adult adaptations? Well, perhaps not quite as good as The Hunger Games (Catching Fire especially), but it’s far better than anything the Twilight Saga brought in just about every category and despite some issues with the story structure where the training part took up the bulk of the film and the main plot, involving drone soldiers killing innocents, seems like merely a minor plot point quickly, and relatively easily, resolved at the end.
Still, this is an enjoyable and entertaining flick thanks in no small part to the casting of Shailene Woodley who is Hollywood’s “It Girl” starring in other high profile projects including The Fault in Our Stars. In Divergent she has amazing screen presence and in conjunction with some good on-screen chemistry with Theo James (of “Downton Abbey” fame), it makes one ignore any issues with the plot.
Aside from Woodley and James, the film does sport an impressive array of supporting actors from Kate Winslet, Tony Goldwyn, Ashley Judd and Ray Stevenson, all of whom parts are fairly limited — though with Winslet her role should expand with each sequel —, to young on-the-rise talents such as Zoë Kravitz (daughter of Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet), Miles Teller (The Spectacular Now), Ansel Elgort (Carrie) and the more experienced Jai Courtney playing a fine blowhard antagonist; and for his part, he’s far better than in some of the drivel (looking at you A Good Day to Die Hard!).
Divergent was helmed by Neil Burger who I suspect was a director-for-hire and for the most part, it’s a perfectly adequate outing for the filmmaking presenting nice visuals (though the visual effects itself are a bit off) and moves the unusual story structure along at a brisk pace. Burger’s filmography is interesting from the mundane (The Lucky Ones) to downright incredible (The Illusionist is still one of my favorites, unfortunately overshadowed by The Prestige) and although this won’t rank very high amongst his others, he serves as a fine fill-in to introduce this world (the upcoming sequel, Insurgent set for release in 2015, is being directed by Robert Schwentke of RED and R.I.P.D. fame).
SPECIAL FEATURES – 3.25/5
This release comes with a glossy slip cover. Inside the case is a retail DVD Copy and a redemption code for the Digital Copy (both UltraViolet and iTunes).
Audio Commentaries – Two tracks are included: 1) Director Neil Berger and 2) Producers Douglas Wick and Lucy Fisher. Each of these provide different perspectives with Berger giving the filmmaking POV on how shots were filmed, working with the actors and such while the producers are mostly about translating the source material into feature film.
Bringing Divergent to Life (47:17; HD) is a four-part behind-the-scenes documentary chronicling how the project came to life, has some interviews with the cast and crew and we get a look at some of the filmmaking process.
Faction Before Blood (14:51; HD) looks at the different factions featured in the movie.
Deleted Scenes (4:27; HD) – These are a selection of scenes removed or trimmed most likely for pacing issues more than anything.
Also included is a Music Video (3:48; HD) for “Beating Heart” by Ellie Goulding and a Marketing Gallery containing 2 Theatrical Trailers and a Poster Gallery.
Previews – The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (teaser), The Spectacular Now, The Fault in Our Stars, Step Up: All In
VIDEO – 4.75/5
Divergent arrives on Blu-ray presented in its original theatrical 2.40 widescreen aspect ratio and a 1080p high-definition transfer. For the most part, outside of some noticeable banding issues, this is a fine transfer with excellent detail levels and colors have a wide range from warmer colors to the darker range especially during the Dauntless training scenes.
AUDIO – 5.0/5
The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is utterly amazing showcasing the action scenes with excellent depth while also keeping the lower key elements, such as dialogue-driven scenes, good clarity. Also coming through very well, in addition to the soundtrack with some catchy tunes, is Junkie XL’s score which is fantastic and, if I may, well worth purchasing as many of the cues are wonderful even on their own and sound great in surround sound.
OVERALL – 3.5/5
Overall, Divergent is what I’d like to call a ‘nice’ movie. There’s nothing here terrible offensive but at the same time, it doesn’t break new ground either. The direction is more than adequate and the performances are good with Shailene Woodley attaining near greatness continuing her winning streak and is clearly the right choice to carry the franchise. But for all the good, the story structure is odd with the bulk of the time relegated to the training with another plotline almost an afterthought taking over the third act. Even so, I still found this to be an enjoyable and entertaining flick that sets up the groundwork for the three sequels.