With Summit Entertainment’s YA (Young Adult) adaptations being as bad as they are (see: Twilight and The Host) it’s hard to not judge a book by its cover. The trailers for Divergent definitely haven’t helped. With advertisements full of teen drama cliches, it appears like nothing more than a 139-minute episode of any given CW series. Upon screening it, as much as I wanted it to be the next failed YA series, I actually enjoyed the first two-thirds of Divergent – which was unfortunately followed up with a terrible final act.
The world established in Divergent is interesting unless you put a lot of thought into it, at which point it appears absolutely contrived – but I’m okay looking at it through superficial eyes. A utopic fenced-in society has existed around the post-war rubble of Chicago for 100 years. The society is balanced by dividing the people up into difference social and work classes based on personality types and philosophical ideals. Together, these separate-but-equal “factions” harmoniously keep balance – or so it seems.
We follow a young female character who gives herself the name Tris (Shaileen Woodley, The Descendants) when she chooses to leave her parents’ faction for the most exciting-looking one – the parkour-ish police and military faction. The first third of the film establishes the world, while the second third is purely dedicated her training and attempt to go undiscovered. You see, Tris’ inner persona doesn’t conform to the faction system. Through tests that are part-Matrix and part-Total Recall, the “big brother” of the factions can see that her personality cannot be confined to just one faction. She’s what’s known as “divergent.” The more we get to know what it means to be divergent and the more that Tris pushes her abilities, we see that she’s just like the characters Neo and Katniss – a defiant being capable of shattering the broken system.
Unfortunately, after this solid little origins story and set-up, we’re force-fed a ridiculous third-act plot. The lamest aspect of this plot is that it doesn’t set up anything to come. The first Hunger Games worked just fine as a stand-alone set-up movie that didn’t give us a lame third-act story. The franchise saved that for the second installment, Catching Fire. But Divergent crams it in there for no reason. It’s small (despite attempting to seem big) and easily resolved. Being wrapped up in a nice little bow, all is well in Chicago by the end and the weight of that issue has no apparent repercussion. Whether it will come into play later, I can’t say because I’ve not read the books, but it certainly doesn’t lead us to believe so. Utopia dabbled into dystopia, but that’s fixed now and all is well.
Hopefully, things will get better with the second movie in the series. If improved upon, the Divergent series could be big – but as is, it’s an amateurish affair that’s not worth investing in quite yet just because its fate is up in the air.
(Photo credit: Summit Entertainment)