Despite an All-Star cast, Divergent took too many liberties with the book ultimately diverging (yup, I did it) from the many of the complicated storylines and situations. The movie was missing much of what made the book so interesting and the characters so compelling in the first place.
Directed By: Neil Burger
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet, Ashley Judd, Ray Stevenson, Miles Teller, Jai Courtney, Mekhi Phiefer, Zoe Kravitz, Tony Goldwyn, Ansel Elgort
From the moment I heard Veronica Roth’s Divergent was to be turned into a movie, I knew the movie wasn’t going to work, at least not entirely. The plot of the book and the emotions of the characters are two complicated to be translated into a 2 hour movie and unfortunately my feelings were right. Divergent suffered the same way Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games did as a first movie. Too much set up, too much exposition, not enough character development. While sometimes it worked for the movie, enough of it didn’t work to make it successful.
The Movie Made Sure The Audience Knew What Was Going On (for the most part)
Something that The Hunger Games could have used (yes there will be a lot of these comparisons) was voice over, and I was thankful for its use at the beginning of the movie. Divergent’s world is complicated, but instead of it being explained through lengthy and messy dialogue, it was told with voiceover. It was handy, it was simple, and I always appreciate showing rather than telling, especially when…
Visually, the World Was Just As I Imagined It
The filmmakers did a great job of portraying the post-apocalyptic, futuristic world, incorporating the factions in a realistic, cohesive way. While it may not have been how I pictured it, the production design sucked me in. And that Ferris wheel, yeah, they got that exactly right. Another they got right?
The Casting, [Which] Was Near Perfect (which also meant great acting)
Though Shailene Woodley wasn’t how I initially picture Tris, I think she brought a certain charisma and great acting ability to the character. Woodley just has this au natural vibe to her. She doesn’t wear much make up, and the way she delivers her lines is very natural. She just has this ease about her. As for Tobias, I can’t imagine anymore more perfect than Theo James. Frankly, this good looking man is the perfect Tobias. James brought a nice balance of soft vs. hard to Tobias. Despite his baby face, Miles Teller knows how to play the perfect douche bag (I think it’s his Vince Vaughn-y way of babbling), thus making him a great Peter. Kate Winslet was beautiful yet intimidating just as Joanna should be, Jai Courtney was menacing as Eric, and Maggie Q is really the perfect Tori. Maggie Q is just amazing and we need more Asians in film (who don’t just do kung fu or karate.) Now as for the casting of Christina, Al, Caleb…we’ll get to that later…
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
Wrong Depiction of the Characters
While some characters were cast correctly, other characters — Christina, Al, Caleb, Will – just felt wrong. Though I might be able to forgive the casting of Al and Will IF we were able to spend more time with them. The movie seemed to swiftly gloss over some characters, while interpreting other characters in correctly, or let’s just be honest, not to my liking. Take Tris for example: What makes Tris Tris is that she’s independent, she’s fearless, she’s wreckless, and she’s impulsive. She doesn’t need anyone’s help. She will learn how to survive and figure it out herself. She shows no weakness. In fact, she’s forced to show vulnerability in order to not become a target to her enemies. The movie version of Tris was not as powerful. She felt like the outcast girl who suddenly became the girl everyone liked. Things seemed to come easy for her. No one really hated her, not even Peter. Sure she was outspoken, but only really with authority. She had no spark, fire, or sass about her. Overall she was likeable, TOO likeable. And Christina, while she and Tris were friends, they didn’t always get along. They were highly competitive. But the with the movie’s version of Christina, nothing really stood out. *major spoiler alert* She let Tris get the flag? Come on MOVIE. This is an important character moment. Epic Fail. Other characters such as Will, Al, Tris’ parents (Hey, why is the President Tris’ father?) weren’t just developed making those emotional moments less impactful because, well, we never really new the characters in this first place. You can’t just gloss over these characters because the way they impact Tris is important. But the movie did gloss over them because…
Time was focused in the wrong areas.
It was almost as if they spent TOO much time developing the backstory, explaining the factions, setting up the real issue. And this is the problem with turning a book like this into a 2 hour movie. It’s impossible. Just as it was for the first installment of The Hunger Games. While the “romance” between Tris and Tobias developed nice and slowly, suddenly at the end it sped up into warp speed in a way that made NO sense whatsoever. And the climatic end scene was pretty much a mess. It was as if everything was happening TOO fast and yet not fast enough. Sometimes the movie slowed down to a crawling pace. When you think in the middle of a movie “we still have a long way to go” that’s never a good sign. I don’t know how the filmmakers would have saved it, but character development can go a long way.
Books are always harder to turn into movies, especially when there are so many beloved characters. However, I’m much more likely to forgive leaving out important moments if the characters are developed right. Take for example the Harry Potter series. There are so many instances where I felt certain moments in the book, BELOVED moments were left out, but the one thing the movies did well were introduce characters we know and love in a way that helps develop the main three. Nowadays it seems like secondary characters are dragged out just to please the fans but not to serve any purpose to the story.
Divergent wasn’t a bad movie. Visually it was stunning, the acting was great, and the movie has immense star power. It just didn’t live up to the essence of the book, and movies rarely ever do. I understand that movies based on YA books have to cater to a certain demographic, but I just wish movies like these could be grittier. Show battle wounds, show bruises, show blood. Make us feel scared, make us sit on the edge of our seats, don’t be afraid to let the dark side out.