[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B00IALP3KS][/pullquote] The scourge of young adult (YA) adaptations was at all time high in 2013, where we got Beautiful Creatures, The Mortal Instruments, The Host, and Catching Fire all in the same year. It seems to be slightly less in volume this year, but with the major flop of Vampire Academy earlier in 2014, YA films have not had a good start. So does Divergent fill the need for a good YA movie until Mockingjay Part 1 comes out?
Set in teen movie dystopia #3698, Divergent tells the story of Beatrice (Shailene Woodley), or Tris. Through a shamelessly rushed, exposition-stuffed opening narration we learn that this film is set in a futuristic totalitarian government which divides people up based on their virtues. They take a test to see which faction they’re best suited for and then….they can choose any one they want. Huh, okay. And if you fail the training for the faction you chose, you have to…leave and live factionless, which, granted is like living homeless, but it’s free choice. You know, this seems like a pretty mild totalitarian government doesn’t it? I mean, compared to some we’ve seen these don’t seem like massive issues.
Anyway, Tris goes to take the test, which takes the form of some kind of virtual simulation involving a dog and a million versions of herself and a bunch of different objects (what’s wrong with a written test I’m not really sure). However, her test results comes out inconclusive, which makes Tris a Divergent, a very rare kind of person who fits into all factions. Why this has any effect on who you are I don’t really know, since failing a man-made test doesn’t normally affect you as a person, but hey, we need some stakes in this rather limp story. Out of the five factions, Abnegation (selfless), Dauntless (fearless), Candor (truthful), Amity (peaceful), and Erudite (intelligent), Tris leaves her family’s Abnegation picks Dauntless, the police ones, people she’s always admired. From here we get a suspiciously Hunger Games-esque training sequence that lasts for about and hour and a half of the film.
The plot meanders around, not really going anywhere for most of Divergent‘s running time, which makes the film veer dangerously towards boring. Thankfully, the last half of the film gets a lot more interesting and engaging, and the final fight is thrilling and emotional enough to almost make you forget about how much you were checking your watch in the first half. Of course, once your out of the movie and start thinking about it, it starts to become clear just how inconsequential much of the story is. Almost nothing from when she enters the training and when she finishes the training has any impact on that plot, unless you include the vomit-inducing YA romance that’s just as out of place as they always are, and is so underwritten, it resorts to clichÃ©s like the leading man whipping his shirt off the his much younger student (which possibly falls on the wrong side of creepy) to show off his tattoos, but as Four (Theo James) so far has not shown any romantic interest in Tris, only exerted mentor and surrogate father tendencies, it’s out of nowhere and completely unneeded.
Despite the fact it may sound like I’m saying Divergent is bad, I’m really not. The ending is actually pretty great, and sets up the next instalment nicely. The performances on the whole are pretty decent, even if Kate Winslet doesn’t get nearly enough screen time. I like especially how there’s actual real development in the protagonist, where she’s not already great at what she does from years of off-camera training. No, she’s lived a quite sheltered lifestyle and it shows. She’s terrible and useless at first, but genuinely grows and develops, and the progression is shown well. However, even though the lead is developed enough to be a compelling character, the same can’t be said for the supporting cast, who are all pretty one-note and flat, even the love interest, who even though we literally go into his mind at one point we know very little about him to make the audience care, and by extension care about the romance.
It’s not a classic and it has a lot of flaws, especially at a ridiculous 140 running time (though keep in mind the last ten minutes of that are all credits), but it’s entertaining and fun enough to keep you mildly interested. From the terrible trailer and marketing campaign, I never would have thought I would say this, but I’m genuinely looking forward to see where this goes and how they handle the next one. Most franchises like this start out rocky, but for a first effort in a new series, it’s actually pretty good.