Divergent

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REVIEW: ‘Divergent’ is an entertaining film that successfully tackles a complicated concept (80%)

March 17, 2014
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When I first saw Divergent at the San Francisco red carpet screening around two weeks ago, my first reaction was very positive. I turned to my brother and said, “That was a good movie!” I really enjoyed it, and that’s the bottom line with entertainment for me. I want to be entertained, and Divergent was a wonderful escape. The world that Veronica Roth created was transferred in a very compelling way onto the screen, and while it isn’t as large and all-encompassing as the worlds of other post-apocalyptic films, I was happy. The style and vibe of it all is very stylish and completely fits the way everything is described in the book.

Shailene Woodley was a fantastic choice for Tris, because she just seems so normal. Her acting style is natural and you really don’t feel like she is performing at all. She just is Tris. You feel like, if you jumped into the world of the dauntless faction…you probably would end up behaving very similarly to Tris. Fighting a girl much, much bigger than you like Molly? You’d probably also step backwards off the platform. Fighting Peter? Even if Four gave you some pointers, you’d probably also end up getting knocked out. There’s never a point (even as she has to be shocked, sad, extremely emotional, or beat up) that her performance seems over-dramatic or false. She’s a very talented actress! I loved how in Abnegation, she came across as a shy character that didn’t really know who she was, and then as she initiated into Dauntless, her sassy side really came out.

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The only issue I had with the character of Tris in the film is that I felt like you really don’t get to know her personally, in the beginning of the movie. The film has so much exposition to get out about the factions and the entire post-apocalyptic world, it sacrificed time for exposition about our lead character who we will be following. This, in turn, made the entire film seem like we were following a character around who we didn’t truly know. It made it more like a documentary about a girl going to dauntless…than a film in which we really felt like we knew the lead character and really got into her head. Readers, like me, won’t have a big of an issue with this. However, the people that see this film who haven’t read the book will be coming in at a disadvantage.

Theo James was perfectly cast as Four, and I can totally see why it was a challenge to find an actor that fit the complicated role. The actor had to be able to portray a tough, masculine, stand-offish personality who is very closed off, while also having that softness and kindness underneath it all. Many actors were overpowered by Shailene Woodley (Tris) while acting with her – but with Theo, you really feel like he’s a good match for her strength. Like Shailene, his acting job was spot on. You never feel like he’s acting, you feel like he is Four. Just because he is confident, he doesn’t have to be the loudest voice in the room. He has a quiet sense of confidence. He’s also a nice, good, person…but that doesn’t mean that he would be at home in Amity. Like he says, “I’m working on kind.” Also, he did an absolutely superb job with his American accent!

The relationship between Tris and Four was also something that I found very strong about Divergent. Their relationship is literally the glue that holds this movie together, and if it hadn’t worked, then the film wouldn’t have worked. I haven’t liked many relationships on screen between other on-screen YA adaptation leads recently because the way they get to know each other and interact always seemed to be built on swooning, and cliches. With Tris and Four, you really feel like they actually are compatible people that are truly working towards a real relationship. I mean, they only kiss once in the entire movie, and I’m completely okay with that! I am a stickler against cheesiness. There were cheesy moments in this film that I would have rather the film didn’t have, but I’ll get to that later. I just appreciated that when Four put his hand out to catch Tris on the ferris wheel and they caught eyes, or when he touched her stomach to alter her fighting stance, you saw the compatibility. However, you didn’t cringe because they may as well have had a sitcom audience utter “Ooooh” in the background. It didn’t feel fake, it felt real, like a mature relationship.

My favorite scene in the film is probably when Tris chooses dauntless and runs with the other initiates, and has to catch the train. The heart-pumping electronic score that accompanied it just gave me goosebumps, and meeting Christina was a cool moment. I thought Zoe Kravitz was a fantastic Christina, she brought that Candor sass. Like Tris and Four, Tris and Christina’s relationship also felt realistic. I also thought that Ben Lloyd-Hughes, who played Will, was perfectly cast and completely adorable. Christian Madsen was also perfectly cast in the role of Al, but I felt like he was under-utilized. I know that his role isn’t a huge one, so it was a necessary omission. Just, after interviewing Christian on set, he’s so entirely perfect for the role of Al I wish we got to see more of his character. We don’t really get to see much of Al’s weakness that is portrayed in the book, like his crying at night. On screen he almost seemed more confident than I expected, but the jist of the character was captured very well. I’m very glad that they kept in the pivotal and shocking scene involving his character. I do wish they kept in the scene with Four explaining to Tris how she should confront Al, since I enjoyed the sense of manipulation in the book you got from that interaction. It’s not maybe how she would react herself, but it’s how she has to present herself to make it in Dauntless.

Going off the fact that they didn’t omit the shocking scene involving Al, one thing that I was surprised by with Divergent is that they sanitized the Dauntless initiation process a little bit. It did feel extremely brutal, especially when we watched Tris fight people that were so obviously stronger than she was. However, we didn’t see anyone fall and die when people were jumping off the train. Jai Courtney’s strong performance as the Dauntless “army commander” type leader, Eric, helped with this though. He provided a sense of danger.

Ben Lamb’s character of Edward was almost completely cut out of the film, which is understandable, but saddening for fans of the book. However, I know that the scene involving his eye being stabbed was filmed (we talked about it on set), so I wish we could have seen that. I feel like because we lost the death during the train jump in the beginning of the film, and Peter stabbing Edward in the face, it makes the whole initiation process just not seem as extreme as it was in the book. In the book, it almost feels like a life or death situation. We get a touch of that feeling when we see Al fall apart, and when Eric makes Christina dangle off the platform, and when Tris has to fight with fellow initiates..but it’s just not quite to the level of “crazy” that it was in the book. The part we really get the best look at it is when Al and the group of Dauntless attack Tris, however the scene isn’t as intense as it is in the book either.

Theo James mentioned during the interview at the press junket that the director, Neil Burger, wanted to make sure that the world felt inviting before all the intense craziness happened. If someone died jumping off the train right away, audiences would just think dauntless folks are insane, and wouldn’t want to be in that world. However, I think the insanity of the dauntless was something intriguing about the books. It shows that the faction values have gotten a little bit skewed towards a dangerous direction.

I really enjoyed the simulations! They were extremely exciting, and keep you on the edge of your seat. The only one I really had issues with was Tris’ faction test. I wish it was a bit longer and more clear, like it was in the book. The one in the book has lots of different levels, so it’s clear that there are a lot of pieces that need to be judged in order for them to know where to place her. I left the test in the film thinking…how in the world would you know where to put someone with just the information from that short hallucination? I also felt like I would have rather they kept Tori’s character more sympathetic like she was in the book. In the film she is much more stand-off-ish, and doesn’t really want to develop a relationship with Tris. This also prompted the fact that Tris uses getting a tattoo as an excuse to make Tori have to spend time with her, and her decision to get the bird tattoo almost seems random. I was looking forward to seeing the backstory of the tattoos and Tori’s relationship with Tris be formed on screen.

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However, I loved basically all of the fear landscapes! Tris being attacked by birds, being stuck in the box filling with water, being tied up in a burning field, and even the one where she was forced to shoot one of her family members. I did have a small issue with the fear regarding intimacy though, since it sort of seemed skewed towards a fear of being assaulted…Four got a bit “rapey” in the fear simulation. Most people are afraid of being assaulted, but Tris is afraid of a more specific thing as her main fear…actually getting physically intimate with someone. I feel like that simulation should have just been a bit less violent, Four could have gotten insistent, but not to the point where you think he’s actually going to sexually assault her.

Another issue I had regarding the intimacy fear was that after the one kiss that Tris and Four share in the movie (which I liked), Tris says a rather strange line. This scene happens before we see her fear landscape regarding intimacy, and she says, “I just don’t want to go too fast.” The audience laughed at this in both screenings where I saw it, and rightfully so, because it just seems a bit strange. It was a sort of odd way of wording it, seeing as they aren’t actually laying in a bed, they are just kissing. Something more natural like, “I haven’t really been with anyone before, so…let’s go slow, okay?” would have been better in my opinion. At this point we don’t really know that Tris has a fear of intimacy so it comes out of left field that just kissing someone would cause her to say something like that.

There’s also a change that was made regarding Tris going into Four’s fear landscape that I really agreed with. Four isn’t just showing Tris his fears, he’s actually bringing her inside in order to show her how to tackle her fears in a way that won’t reveal that she is a divergent. Since even in the book, the connection between being divergent and the simulations sort of confused me. Why do divergents know that they are under simulations? It’s just the way their minds work, I suppose? I was afraid that that whole concept would just be way too complicated to get across on screen without causing a bit of confusion. They did it though, through clever changes. You really do understand that Tris can get through her fear-lanscape so easily because that she just knows it’s fake so she can just not properly tackle the fear. In order to get through without revealing that she is divergent, she has to tackle it in a way a dauntless would. That’s what Four is teaching her to do while taking her through his fear landscape…and also getting to know her at the same time. So, the entire scene really moves the plot forward, and gets across the intensity. I absolutely loved the entire scene!

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The finale featuring the Dauntless army attacking Abnegation, and the leads finding their way back into Dauntless to stop Jeanine was intense. I thought that the whole idea of Erudite completely wanting to obliterate Abnegation was a bit extreme and dark…but it has happened in the past (the Holocaust), so I guess it’s not completely unrealistic. I have read the book, but I still found myself asking…why? Why would Jeanine do this? She does explain herself, many times, throughout the film. I thought that Kate Winslet portrayed Jeanine in a very specific, Erudite-style way. Meaning, she is a extremely intelligent and analytical character, who is almost robotic. This can almost cause Kate Winslet to seem like she’s acting robotically, and therefore…not realistically. So, there’s a tough line to step over, and Jeanine is a complex character. I can’t really decide what I thought of Kate Winslet as Jeanine. I think she did a good job, but I didn’t leave the theater entirely wowed by her performance.

I thought the scene where Tris has to fight off Four was well done, and both Shailene Woodley and Theo James brought their all to it. Fans won’t be disappointed! After Four and Tris are back in action, and fight Jeanine, that’s where it got a fraction too cheesy for my taste. Tris uttering, “I’m divergent!” and then just knocking Jeanine out,was a bit cheesy and scripted. I guess some fans will like it though – do you think that every movie needs that token tagline, like that one?

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A scene that I absolutely loved in the finale was the scene between Tris and her mother during the battle. Shailene Woodley’s performance in this moment was absolutely phenomenal, and she made me cry due to the realism of her emotion. It’s hard to get a realistic emotional performance out in a big-budget action movie in the middle of a battle sequence, but she pulled it off amazingly well. Ashley Judd was also fantastic as Natalie Prior throughout the entire movie! She was a very well-formed character, who had a strong on-screen presence that left a lasting impression.

When I first saw Divergent at the San Francisco red carpet screening around two weeks ago, my first reaction was very positive. I turned to my brother and said, "That was a good movie!" I really enjoyed it, and that's the bottom line with entertainment for me. I want to be entertained, and Divergent was a wonderful escape. The world that Veronica Roth created was transferred in a very compelling way onto the screen, and while it isn't as large and all-encompassing as the worlds of other post-apocalyptic films, I was happy. The style and vibe of it all is very stylish and completely fits the way everything is described in the book. Shailene Woodley was a fantastic choice for Tris, because she just seems so normal. Her acting style is natural and you really don't feel like she is performing at all. She just is Tris. You feel like, if you jumped into the world of the dauntless faction...you probably would end up behaving very similarly to Tris. Fighting a girl much, much bigger than you like Molly? You'd probably also step backwards off the platform. Fighting Peter? Even if Four gave you some pointers, you'd probably also end up getting knocked out. There's never a point (even as she has to be shocked, sad, extremely emotional, or beat up) that her performance seems over-dramatic or false. She's a very talented actress! I loved how in Abnegation, she came across as a shy character that didn't really know who she was, and then as she initiated into Dauntless, her sassy side really came out. The only issue I had with the character of Tris in the film is that I felt like you really don't get to know her personally, in the beginning of the movie. The film has so much exposition to get out about the factions and the entire post-apocalyptic world, it sacrificed time for exposition about our lead character who we will be following. This, in turn, made the entire film seem like we were following a character around who we didn't truly know. It made it more like a documentary about a girl going to dauntless...than a film in which we really felt like we knew the lead character and really got into her head. Readers, like me, won't have a big of an issue with this. However, the people that see this film who haven't read the book will be coming in at a disadvantage. Theo James was perfectly cast as Four, and I can totally see why it was a challenge to find an actor that fit the complicated role. The actor had to be able to portray a tough, masculine, stand-offish personality who is very closed off, while also having that softness and kindness underneath it all. Many actors were overpowered by Shailene Woodley (Tris) while acting with her - but with Theo, you really feel like he's a good match for her strength. Like Shailene, his acting job was spot on.…

80%

Solid Experience for Readers

DIVERGENT

Overall, I think the film is a solid action adventure experience. The biggest thing that fans have to realize is that as readers we have an added appreciation and understanding of the characters, world, and plot. Movie goers and critics who don't read the books go into adaptations completely blind, so they need the characters to feel real and three dimensional with only the information they've been given on screen. I had to come at the film from that angle as well, to review it. I think that due to the complex concept, Divergent may not have a solid landing with all audiences, but readers and people in the demographic it was intended for, will love it.

For Newcomers

75%

For Fans of the Book

85%

80


‘Divergent’ hits theaters on March 21st, 2014!


Kimmy is a 21 year old nerdfighter who is the founder and editor-in-chief of Page to Premiere. When she's not writing about books and movies here or on her Hunger Games site called Mockingjay.net, she loves Tumblr-ing, eating sushi, drinking Thai iced tea, and being lazy with her cat Rue! She hopes to be a published author one day. You can follow her on Twitter at @kimmymary.


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  • DesMarie

    I had read this review before seeing the movie last night. At first, I was a bit weary going into the movie but I believe at the same time it prepared me. This book, for me, holds ‘one of the most influential books’ slot in regards to my personal journey, so to say, I felt the pressure for this movie to deliver, is probably an understatement.

    I have been processing and must say, your review is pretty spot on.
    First, it was as you said, an entertaining movie. It had action, humor, and heart. They did a good job bringing this world to life. Shailene Woodley and Theo James NAILED their roles. I went in not carrying high expectations for their portrayal of these beloved characters in my head, but I was pleasantly surprised. Not knowing truly what Theo James could deliver, I have to say, I walked away having his portrayal of Four, leaving the strongest impression on me. As Veronica Roth told Epic Reads during their Chicago premiere interview, she desired book lovers/movie goers to walk away knowing this: Theo nailed it as Four. I must whole-heartedly agree, and I’m not one of the Theo “swooned” fans.

    As I sat there watching, I tried putting myself in my friend’s position, who was sitting next to me and hasn’t read the book, or reads YA, period. She walked away saying she really enjoyed it and was impressed also with Four, the character. I hadn’t realized how much happens in book one that feels so vital to the story as a whole.

    I understand the editing decisions and the few additions they created fit well with the story. (Yes, I too noticed their “blockbuster” action movie line. I laughed remembering you mentioning it) There was a lot of little things and not so little things that I truly missed from the book that I wish could have been shared with those who haven’t read the book or will, honestly.

    Love, love, LOVED the fear landscapes! Wanted more-So. Good!

    In the end, I really enjoyed it and thought it was good! I would give it the same rating as you did, feeling certain things were missing for me but the production, and the performances were outstanding! So excited for the DVD’s deleted scenes. :)

  • endlessbluecove

    Thanks for this! These movies always make me nervous, so glad to hear that they tried to stay as true to the book as possible.

  • Erin Cook

    Great review, I agree with almost everything you said. I agree there were some cheesy lines like her saying a few times “I’m Divergent”. But I am wondering how you felt about the ending with shutting down the simulations? In the book as you know Four is the only one in the control center at Dauntless headquarters and she fights him, he fights against the syrum, and then Four shuts down the sims and they take the hard drive. In the movie this is different and ***SPOILERS*** Jeanine is at Dauntless headquarters with a bunch of Erudite lackies and she shuts down the sim. My friends who I went with who read the book were very unhappy with this change. I actually think it make sense coming from a filmmaking background but what are your thoughts??

  • Kimmy West

    I feel like it’s understandable in that if you get Kate Winslet to be in your movie, you need to use Kate Winslet! However, yeah, the only thing I didn’t enjoy was the cheesy moments with her punching Jeanine and saying “I’m Divergent.” I also thought that Jeanine seemed really stiff the entire movie, which could be a choice since she’s supposed to be a sort of robotic character, but it made me feel like she wasn’t acting well (which probably isn’t actually the case). I dunno!

  • Erin Cook

    So you didn’t mind so much that the end diverged (see what I did there?) from the book, a little bit? I agree with the Divergent quote…lame. But I did like how she threw the knife and hit her hand. That was pretty cool. And how cool would it be to be able to say you “punched” Kate Winslet? Ha.

  • Rachel

    The scene where Four takes Tris through his fear landscapes to teach her to tackle the simulation as a dauntless was perfect in the movie. I remember when reading the book not understanding why Tris kept “overriding” the simulations knowing everyone was watching her and knowing how dangerous it would be if they figured out she was divergent. I wish the movie version had been in the book because it made so much more sense. She had to get through the landscapes quickly, but she had to do it the way a dauntless would (although I did take some issue with how they said a dauntless would handle some of those things – a dauntless wouldn’t break the glass but they’d stuff the pipe? that seems more Erudite to me). There were certain changes made that I didn’t like, but I think the way they made sense of that was the best possible change they could have made.

  • Kendra Lane Simmons Barrow

    Kimmy, great review! I think you have balanced well between the good and bad of the film. These are the comments I posted over at my Hunger Games Bookclub facebook page. Overall, I enjoyed this movie adaptation and give it a solid B. There are moments that are A+ but some of the cons of the film drag it DOWN to a B. These are my favorite highlights… I’ll put the Downers in a separate post.

    FOUR, FOUR, FOUR! Yes, I know “Movie
    Four” doesn’t have the black hair and hook nose of “Book Four” and that
    Theo James is much older and better looking than the way Four was
    described in the book. (Do you really want to complain about this last
    one????) However, I believe Theo captured the “essence” of Four – that masculine, tough, guarded, quiet, remarkably self-possessed, intimidating, long sinewy build with taut, defined muscles, and deep voice. Tris describes him on page 289 after Al and others attacked her:“He is not sweet or gentle or particularly kind. But he is smart and brave, and even though he saved me, he treated me like I was strong. Thatis all I need to know.” What especially impressed me was the transition of Four’s character from
    completely guarded and intimidating to the point where you realize he’s
    given Tris his heart. Out of all the characters, the filmmakers knew that Four would be the most complex role to cast and I give them kudos for making the right choice.

    FEAR LANDSCAPES! Tris’ fear landscapes
    were done so well I can’t imagine them being filmed any better. Very impressive.

    FERRISWH EEL SCENE! Oh my! This movie
    scene captured what we saw in the book: the romantic intensity, the
    exhilaration of the heights, Four’s fear -“Are you even human?”- and Tris’ nervousness at his physical closeness. True, they didn’t film
    the end of ferris wheel scene when she almost falls off and he climbs down
    and turns on the wheel. My guess is that for time’s sake, they stuck with the relational part of the scene instead of emphasizing the action.

    FUNNY! There were some great one-liners in the movie: “Are you even human?” and one from Evil Eric when he realizes thatTris is Divergent (can’t remember the line but it was quite humorous).

    TRIS –
    I thought that Shailene Woodley did a wonderful job as Tris. There were some script changes I would make, but her acting itself was natural and subtle. I loved how they had a lot of facial close ups that emphasized her eyes.
    Shailene especially shone in the haircut scene, when her mother died, having her face light up when Dauntless jump off the train to go to school, and her intense moment with
    Four when he is still in the simulation – “Four, it’s me! I love you!”

    CHEMISTRY
    BETWEEN THE LEADS! To me, this is what makes the film. If the
    chemistry wasn’t there, the film would fizzle out. If you watch interviews with both
    Shailene and Theo, you’ll see an easy comraderie but it is the intensity
    in the movie scenes that ratchets the film up a few notches.

    ZIP LINE – Exhilarating!

    BEST SCENE ADDITION! I was very pleased
    with the way the filmmakers changed Four’s fear landscape to being more
    about teaching Tris to act like Divergent in her own landscape. I thought it made way more sense than the book.

    EVIL ERIC! Jai Courtney did a fabulous
    job of making Eric unpredictable, creepy, evil, and intelligent. He had some funny moments too – which I thought humanized Eric more than his book counterpart. I can’t wait to see where Jai takes this character in Insurgent!

    ENERGY of DAUNTLESS – While some of the twistedness of
    Dauntless wasn’t shown, there were plenty of little moments sprinkled
    throughout the movie of Dauntless running, jumping off trains, yelling,
    zip-lining, and showing their boisterous raucous joy.

  • Kendra Lane Simmons Barrow

    I agree, the Divergent quote was lame but throwing the knife and hitting Jeanine’s hand was a great addition. The whole theater cheered at that point!

  • Kimmy West

    Agreed!