Friday, March 28, 2014

Divergent Movie Reivew

Oh, hey wow! Another set of movies based off of a young adult novel trilogy. We certainly haven't had enough of those lately. Contrary to the circumstances when I saw The Hunger Games, I had read the Divergent book before the Divergent (2014) movie hit theaters. This is a rare case where I think the movie is better than the book upon which it is based.
Set in a futuristic dystopia where society is divided into five factions that each represent a different virtue, teenagers have to decide if they want to stay in their faction or switch to another for the rest of their lives. Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) makes a choice that surprises everyone by leaving the Abnegation faction that values selflessness and joins the rough and rugged Dauntless faction which values bravery. Beatrice and her fellow faction initiates have to live through a highly competitive initiation process and training from Four (Theo James) and other trainers. They must undergo extreme physical and intense psychological tests, which end up transforming them all. But Beatrice has a secret; she is Divergent, which means she doesn't fit into any one faction. If anyone knew, it would mean a certainty of death. When Beatrice discovers a growing conflict lead by Erudite leader, Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet), which threatens to unravel the seemingly perfect society, Beatrice's secret might help her save the people she loves, or it might destroy her.
So, I have read the Divergent book. It bears a more-than-passing resemblance to The Hunger Games; dystopian future, society divided into groups, rebellion, searching for a sense of identity, worrying about being different, etc. The characters were inconsistent, the story wasn't developed well, and most of the events were thrown together without obvious connection. It's a pretty weak novel that didn't inspire me to check out the others in the series. Having said that, I think the writers of the Divergent movie did a great job of taking a mediocre book and developing it into a decent movie. It's sad if the movie does a better job of telling the story than the original book did. In the movie the characters are more consistent, we understand the reason for certain events, and the story is more evenly paced. That's not to say the movie was exceptionally good, just better than the book it was based on.
Much of the film revolves around the rigorous training that Beatrice and the other newbies are put through. Four and Eric (Jai Courtney) are heartless and tough on the new recruits, so naturally Beatrice develops a romantic interest in Four. The scenes where this enigmatic interest develops was very much forced. Four puts his hand on Beatrice's side or back to help her with fighting stances and posture and then leaves them there just a little too long for comfort. Of course this is supposed to be romantic and is meant to illustrate the growing passionate tension between the two characters. It ends up looking so awkward and uncomfortable that I literally laughed out loud nearly every time this happened. I think this is more of a flaw of the script and maybe a lapse in directing; the actors do a decent job acting their part, they just didn't have very good material to work with. In fact, I think Woodley and James's performances were a strength in the movie, it could have been a lot worse with less skilled actors.
There are a number of creative liberties used in making this movie. We actually get to see Beatrice develop from a rather frumpy reserved puritan-like character into a hard core fighting machine and strategist. We get to see what make Four tick. Jeanine has a much more prominent and developed role as the villain. There's some emotionally intense scenes near the end that made me a lot more invested in the characters. The big fight at the end of the movie is very different, but much more logical and poignant to the story and characters. These differences made the movie a lot more solid than it was in the book, I think.
Apart from the hallucinogenic mind-test scenes, there isn't a whole lot of particularly intensive special effects. A lot of the action scenes were executed with practical effects which is always a plus in my book. Most of the CGI was in the exterior shots of post-apocalyptic Chicago. Ruined structures, the huge defensive fence around the city, and some futuristic buildings were rendered by computers with such remarkable detail that one would hardly suppose they were artificial. It really helped sell the post-apocalyptic setting.
Divergent wasn't a bad movie. It had plenty of weaknesses, including some shaky cam which I'm convinced was trying to imitate The first Hunger Games movie. The love interest was illogical, some characters were left underdeveloped, the Young Adult Fiction formula undercuts some potential for an interesting theme and makes the story predictable. On the other hand, the acting is pretty good, the special effects are well integrated and coupled with some good practical effects, the story is reasonably well developed, and we've got a strong female protagonist. Divergent was much better than the book, but still wasn't a wholly remarkable movie. The book didn't inspire me to read the others in the series, but I liked the movie enough to check out its sequels. Unless you're a huge fan of the books, I'd wait for this to be on home video. It's a renter, but it's a pretty good renter.

So, Young Adult books seem to be a movie genre any more. What is a Young Adult book series that you would like to see made into a movie? I think The Looking Glass Wars would be pretty cool. Comment below and tell me what you think!

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