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Film Review: “Divergent” Diverges from Expectations

Due to unforeseen circumstances, I ended up seeing Divergent instead of an early screening of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Despite the turn of events, I was still looking forwards to seeing Divergent – I read the novel by Veronica Roth a few years back, and remember being impressed by it. I also felt a kinship to Ms. Roth, as she is an alumni of my university. I’d heard good things about Shailene Woodley (from The Spectacular Now) and of course Kate Winslet, who’s given nothing but stellar performances for the entirety of her career. So leave it to say I was anticipating a good action film.

I left the film feeling like I had just been witness to Twilight 2.0: ft. Dystopian Chicago.

This film was disappointing.

While the events of the book were followed pretty well, the entire film itself felt like it was geared towards preteen girls, which obviously succeeded; in the theater I was in, I was one college-aged student among a sea of clapping, gleeful middle school girls, who fanned themselves every time Theo James appeared on the big screen.

Theo James is a relatively unknown English actor, whose credits include a part on the TV show Golden Boy and a stint in Underworld: Awakening. While, yes, there is no denying that he is quite aesthetically pleasing, I do not think he did his job of playing the character Four. (Spoiler ahead) It is revealed in the books that Tobias Eaton renamed himself “Four” after his four greatest fears, one of which was being physically abused by his father when he was a child. When that scene is revealed to the audiences, it is incredibly anti-climatic and brushed over. Theo James shows absolutely NO vulnerability, while in the books his character was literally cowering on the ground.

Now, oftentimes it can be hard to differentiate between what is a directorial choice and what is an actor choice in a decision to portray a character. Certain directors like to use a minimalistic approach, where they have their actors demonstrate little emotion in order to better serve the narrative story at hand. While I can in no way say whether this stylistic choice is “good” or “bad”, I can say that I was thoroughly unimpressed by the portrayal of Four as a brooding, tattooed Edward Cullen.

This movie feels like it could have been so much more, if it had tried not to market to just the teenage population.

Along with the choice casting of a “tall dark and handsome” actor as the male lead, the soundtrack choices served to solidify the tween-y feeling of this film. Let me preface this by saying that I actually like many of the bands that were featured on the soundtrack; Woodkid, Snow Patrol, and M83 all hold a special place in my Spotify library of awesome artists, but placed in the context of the film, one gets the sense that the sound editor of Divergent was trying a little too hard to emulate the Hunger Games-esque use of pop music in their film. Where Divergent falls flat is that it doesn’t balance the music out with enough of an orchestral blend (which Hunger Games does), making the pop tunes jarring and inappropriate, and at times knocking me completely out of the narrative. I was too busy wondering why Ellie Goulding was singing to pay attention to what was going on on the big screen.

The most unfortunate fact this all culminates to is that Divergent is, in my own humble opinion, probably the best book out of the entire series. Insurgent and Allegiant are both respectively too long and too confusing, each leaving me with the feeling that Veronica Roth felt some Dickinsonian-like pressure to complete the book so it could be adapted into the film franchise.

All of this leads to the culmination of me saying that if I do end up watching the next two movies in this franchise, it will either be because I have too much time on my hands, or the preteen kids I babysit drag me to see it.

two star

 

  • Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet
  • Directed by: Neil Burger
  • Running Time: 2 hr 20 min
  • Genre: Sci-Fi, Romance