FlixChatter Double Review: DIVERGENT

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I thought I’d post a double reviews as we have different perspectives coming into the film. Ashley has read the book by Veronica Roth, but I haven’t. Did we end up with the same or very different conclusions? Read on.

Ruth’s Review

Set in a post-apocalyptic Chicago, society has been divided into five factions based on virtues: Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). Someone is considered divergent when the results of their required aptitude test show that they don’t fit neatly into one faction, which is considered a threat by the leaders who want to maintain a perfectly controlled society. When Beatrice ‘Tris’ Prior (Shailene Woodley) finds out she is divergent, she’s warned by the test administrator (Maggie Q) to keep it a secret. On Choosing Day, where every 16-year-old must choose which faction to belong to, Tris chooses to be in Dauntless. The film pretty much focuses on how Tris and fellow new faction members undergo the extreme physical and psychological training in Dauntless, the military-like group that’s assigned to defend threats from outside the city walls.

It’s a lot to take in but somehow director Neil Burger makes it quite easy to follow. It also helps to that right away I can identify with Tris, thanks to Woodley‘s engaging portrayal. Though in the promo materials she’s shown like this tough, bad ass heroine in skin-tight outfit, she actually appears far more human and therefore relatable in the film. The long exposition does a sufficient job developing the main characters, that is Tris and her mysterious faction trainer called Four (Theo James).
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I like the fact that Tris is realistically shown as being vulnerable and out of her element, as one would imagine if you’re thrown into a faction like Dauntless. There’s an interesting dynamics between Tris and fellow Dauntless members, most notably the bully (Miles Teller, who interestingly played her love interest in The Spectacular Now), and the best friend (Zoë Kravitz). Thankfully the romance didn’t become the main focus in the film, and I’m glad Tris wasn’t made out to be this clingy, lovelorn ingenue. There’s enough chemistry between Woodley and James, and if the romance feels unconvincing at times, I think it’s intentional as the characters are still trying to trust each other.
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As the male lead, 29-year-old Theo James proves to be another fetching, crush-worthy Brit who projects a ‘manly tough guy with a heart’ persona. I’ve only seen him as the indelible Mr. Pamuk who seduced Lady Mary in Downton Abbey, but I certainly would like to see more of him in Hollywood. Ansel Elgort is quite effective in his brief scene as Woodley’s brother Caleb who chooses to be in Erudite. The ‘faction over blood’ revelation is handled quite nicely here in their brief but important scene together. The supporting cast are pretty good overall. The casting of Ashley Judd as Woodley’s mother is so spot on as they have such a strong resemblance, and their scene together toward the end is perhaps one of the most heart-wrenching in the film.
The third act is the most action-packed, involving hostile coup d’etat by drugged-up troops, as well as hand-to-hand fight sequences. A lot of it reminds me of the futuristic actioner Equilibrium in which independent will/thought is forbidden under an authoritarian government, but without the over-the-top Gun Kata martial arts that ended up taking over the story. The filmmaker seems to care and respect Roth’s vision of a flawed dystopian society, instead of just setting out to make a cool action adventure. The cinematography is quite beautiful, especially the scenes from above the Ferris Wheel. Plus, as I’ve visited Chicago often, it’s nice to see it being prominently featured on a film as the city itself, instead of as a sub for something else, i.e. Gotham.
Now, the main issue I have with the film is the pacing. It starts rather too slow for my liking and it didn’t quite pick up until the third act. The script by Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor spends most of the film expounding the idea of what these factions is all about and Tris’ struggle to find her identity. I don’t know if the book is the same way, but the film barely explains the bigger picture of the society we’re dealing with and what’s outside the city walls. We’re only told briefly that wars have destroyed most of the world, but how and what really happened was never mentioned. Another weak aspect is the main villain Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet), an Erudite leader who adamantly believes Divergents must be eradicated. Now, I’m a fan of Winslet as an actress, and granted she has the presence to elevate the material, yet I don’t find her to be menacing nor sinister enough to be effective. In a story like this, I think a strong adversary would help convey what’s really at stake for these characters.
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In the end, it’s the earthy and affable Woodley that keeps the film afloat because I’m invested in her story and her journey. It’s inevitable that given the young adult target audience, the dystopian setting and the fact that it also features a young female protagonist, Divergent will always be compared to The Hunger Games. But having seen the film, I think it has enough distinguishing features to set itself apart and stand on its own two feet. It’s by no means perfect, but despite the flaws, I quite enjoyed it. The ending explicitly sets up a sequel and you know what, I’m actually curious to see what happens next for Tris and Four.

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Ashley’s Review

Just a fair warning, I tried my best to keep my indifferent feelings about the novel separate from my feelings about the film adaptation. While the film followed the novel fairly closely, I wasn’t blown away by their interpretation. When I saw Catching Fire I felt so engrossed in the world and drama, it felt like I was actually right there with Katniss and Peeta; however, in Divergent I truly felt more like a spectator rather than a participant.  I’ve decided to break my review into three points: casting, score and cinematography.

Casting

This was my first encounter with Shailene Woodley (Beatrice Prior) and I have to say I was really impressed. Divergent explores the limits of a person’s mental and physical toughness, so needless to say they needed someone who could portray Tris’ struggles as she begins her training. In the novel Tris is described as being physically weaker than her other initiates and, according to her, plain. While I wouldn’t call Woodley plain, I think she fit the bill perfectly. I was continually surprised by Woodley’s range of emotions. She proved she can handle comedy by delivering perfect biting one-liners, we see raw and tender moments as it becomes clear she’s not the ultimate warrior (quite the opposite from Hunger Games) and her struggles to separate herself from the connection to her previous faction (Abnegation). However, I wasn’t convinced by her romantic portrayal with Four/Tobias (Theo James).

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As much as I enjoyed James for the eye candy (you’ll know when you see it), I honestly felt like he was too old. Especially since they tried to make Woodley look very frail and innocent, their pairing just seemed creepy. Here’s where the novel and film have a major difference. We’re given more scenes, stolen looks and inner dialogue to see a romantic relationship start to bud, but in the film everything felt forced, awkward and rushed.

I agree with Ruth about Kate Winslet’s performance (Jeanine). In the novel she’s supposed to be a threatening and controlling totalitarian leader, but instead Jeanine comes across as arrogant. I didn’t have the same fear instilled in me like I did with Donald Sutherland’s portrayal of President Snow.

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Another big miss was the tension between Eric (Jai Courtney) and Four. In the film Eric is portrayed as this meathead, where in the novel he’s much lankier and values brains over brawns. We learn the rules for Dauntless initiation are changing and are more cut-throat, leaving the unsuccessful factionless. Four is a big proponent of the traditional ways, but in the film we only see glimpses of their discord. Not enough to justify Eric’s attempted murder towards the end of the film.

Score vs. soundtrack
I thought the techno-vibe score (composed by Junkie XL) was well done. It really seemed to match a futuristic setting and the sometimes abrasive mannerisms of the Dauntless. However, I had some qualms about the soundtrack. I’m a big fan of Ellie Goulding and realize she was selected to help produce the soundtrack, but it was Goulding overload. I enjoy her music but after featuring three or four songs, it felt like I was listening to her on repeat. It was enough to pull me out of the film. This might not matter so much to you, but I’m a big believer in a score or soundtrack’s ability to intensify a film’s emotions. To me it’s just as important as acting.

Cinematography

While there aren’t as many fantastical scenes as The Hunger Games trilogy, I think it could’ve been very easy to create the action scenes in CG, and I’m glad they refrained. There are still some elements, but I felt like they relied upon unique camera angles and amazing props instead. And it paid off. However, the film’s pacing felt rather slow. I can understand they were trying to adhere to the novel as much as possible, but I didn’t start to feel engrossed until 2/3 of the way in.

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One particular scene that comes to mind is when Tris takes her aptitude test. She awakes in a room made entirely of floor length mirrors. I thought this was brilliantly done because each time Tris turned, multiple versions of herself would appear, slowly, which really added to the panic, claustrophobia and confusion this scene was trying to convey. I was really impressed by how the film handled the fear landscape simulations. Again, this could’ve been very cheesy, but it definitely lived up to my imagination. I think fans of the novel will appreciate it as well.

As far as young adult dystopian film adaptations go, I felt like the Divergent did a really nice job of incorporating the big elements from the novel. I was really excited to see how they handled Tris begin her training in Dauntless, the Ferris wheel war games scene and finally the fear landscape simulations. To be fair, I think this is one of those films where it’s better upon second review (as was my first impression with The Hunger Games). Overall, I think this captured the tone of the novel and leaves you with anticipation with what’s to come.

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PostByAshley


Well, that’s our thoughts on Divergent. Let us know what YOU think of the movie.

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69 thoughts on “FlixChatter Double Review: DIVERGENT

  1. Ruth, I’m glad you mentioned the lack of world-building, because this was one of my biggest gripes with the novel. It never explains why society is the way it is, and we never learn about “the war.” Like I said, I haven’t read beyond the first novel, but I’m told the truth behind the factions and society is revealed in the third installment.

    I will see this again, as I think my opinion of the film will grow, but I am pleased with the results. I really want to see more successful YA adaptations, as there are so many great books out there! Thanks for letting me co-review with you!

  2. Nice duo perspectives. You two don’t diverge too much ;). Kate is a fine actress, and it’s a shame she did not bring more to the role. I think of recent Jodi Foster in Elysium or Cate Blanchett in Raiders of the Arc 4 and had hoped Kate would rise to the occasion. Good job, you two.

    1. I love Kate as well, but Ruth and I agree she wasn’t the right pick for this film. It’s funny you mention Cate because I think Ruth said she would’ve preferred her in this role. And I have to agree.

      1. I love both Kate and Cate, but I feel that Blanchett has that icy demeanor that she can turn on and off, but when it’s ON I think she can be quite menacing.

  3. Great reviews! This movie is going to be interesting to follow. The early reviews from critics have crushed it but will there be a big enough following of book fans to counter that? Intriguing.

    I am still trying to muster up the interest in it. I’m up and down on it. Ruth, your recent interview and this review will probably get me to the theater.

    1. Thanks! I think there will be enough tweens to keep the franchise afloat. It wasn’t a terrible movie, but given the content, it was just limited. I would recommend you wait a few weeks so you can avoid the gushes when Theo James takes his shirt off. 🙂

  4. I haven’t seen this yet, but it sounds as though you both think it good, but flawed. Which is basically how I feel about the book, so I guess I’m not surprised.

    I do love Shailene Woodley, though, and I’m thrilled to hear you both think her performance is noteworthy. Great reviews!

    1. I actually went back to my Goodreads rating and I gave the novel a 3 as well. So, from that perspective, the film was spot on! Yes, I was really impressed with Woodley and can’t wait to see The Fault in Our Stars.

      1. Me either. I still look forward to Divergent, too. Mostly because the first book was good popcorn entertainment, if not great storytelling. I assume the movie will be much the same.

        I would give the first novel a B-, probably.

        1. I left the film feeling almost exactly the same way about the novel. I’m sure I’ll see it again, but I just need a little distance. Let us know what you think when you see it!

          1. Well. I saw it tonight, and I have to say I agree with many of (both of) your thoughts. The film makes a lot of good changes to the novel, but the development of Four and Tris’ romance isn’t one of them. Their final depth of feeling is too strong given on screen events. Shifting the Dauntless and Eric to valuing obedience above all else is another mistake. Like Ashley says, it lessens the rivalry between Four and Eric. It also minimizes the opportunity to develop Four’s different philosophy.

            I will say I wasn’t bothered by James’ casting. The film deliberately doesn’t make age an issue. Tris could be 16, 18 or even 20, for all we know. And Four’s age is never addressed. So in the movie, he’s near thirty. I can live with that (unless his age becomes a factor in later movies).

            I will also say I think this one gets Jeanine right. Ashley, I read her book character differently; I never thought she was menacing or scary. I thought she was an arrogant zealot who, above all else, valued logic and intellect, per her faction. I think that’s what the movie shows, and I appreciate it – it makes her more nuanced than your standard villain.

            I’ll end with this: I mostly like that the movie deemphasizes Will, Christine, Al and the other minor characters. It allows better development of the main characters. Oh and I really like how the movie changes the ending.

            1. Hey Josh! Thanks for returning to tell us your thoughts on the movie! I didn’t mention this in my review but I really didn’t care for the Eric character at all. Not only because he’s written to be a bad guy but Jai Courtney is just a lousy actor thru and thru. He adds nothing to his character, nothing charismatic at all about his villain-y performance.

              Glad you like James’ casting. Yeah I think him & Shailene have an effortless chemistry and it makes sense that he’s a lot older than Tris being that he’s a leader and all. I didn’t find the romance creepy at all and by the time they kissed, I felt like they’ve been thru quite a bit together so it didn’t feel rushed to me. I’m glad they didn’t sleep together right away, I do appreciate that aspect.

              1. In the book Four is not much older than her. She’s 16. He’s 18. If you think of Four as an 18-year-old, then James is clearly too old to play him. But the movie ignores age, so I don’t think it an issue. (In some ways I think it’s quite smart. Marcus Eaton and Tris’ father run the government together, after all. It seems a little silly Tris wouldn’t recognize Four on sight if he were only two years older, given that they come from the same faction.)

                I won’t say I think Courtney’s performance bad. But I do agree he adds very little to a poorly written character.

                1. Yeah clearly the filmmaker don’t want to make the age thing an issue as both actors are way older than what’s in the book. For me, I ignore that stuff if the chemistry is there and it IS there in this case. I guess being a girl I can’t imagine ANY woman not having a good chemistry w/ Theo, ahahaha

                  I loathe Courtney in Die Hard 5. He’s another one of those Sam Worthington type (yet another Aussie) who has no emotional range.

        2. Hey Josh, I’d love to hear what you think as you’ve read the book. It’s interesting to read Ashley’s perspective and that she pretty much likes both the film & book equally. I think because I really like Shailene (well and Theo too), I enjoyed the movie despite some quibbles. It’s interesting how the casting can really affect how you feel about a movie.

          1. Once I finally see it, I’ll let you know. 🙂

            I actually just finished Allegiant, the last book in the series, yesterday. So now I’m ready for all of the films.

  5. Pingback: Movies better than the book: Our Divergent discussion review | Lovely Literature

  6. Ted S.

    Nice reviews! I might give this a rent since it’s not something I’d run out to see right away, I know it’s totally different from the other YA films but I can’t help but think about it. A pretty young girl trying to fight the system in futuristic society and so on.

    1. I hear ya Ted, that’s kind of what I thought too when I first saw the trailer. But once I saw the movie, I saw the story is quite different from Hunger Games. I also like Shailene a lot, hope she has a great career like her friend Jennifer Lawrence. Apparently she’s the one who encouraged Shailene to take the role of Tris.

  7. Interesting that one of you has read the book and the other hasn’t yet you came out with very similar scores. Not one that I’ll be checking out to be honest, doesn’t really grab me but I’m glad it has some merit. Good work guys!

    1. Aww, it’s worth a rent at least Chris. But I suppose if it doesn’t grab you at all I understand. Have you seen Shailene in The Descendants? She’s very likable, I actually like her slightly more here than Jennifer Lawrence in HG, even if the film itself is not as good.

        1. Yes, do see it for her. It’s such a different role for her here than in The Descendants. She definitely has the range and effortless likability.

  8. Nice reviews from both of you! It had interesting ideas to play around with, but they feel all too familiar by now. Maybe had this movie been made back in 2010 or 2011, you know, before the Hunger Games, then this wouldn’t have looked so unoriginal in the first place. Then again, I don’t even know if that could have been possible to save it.

    1. Yeah, I think HG has the benefit of being the *first* (though people still compared that to Battle Royale too when it came out), and the supporting cast in that one is just stellar. I think the idea here is intriguing, I’ve always been fond of dystopian stories. Plus, given how I feel about the two main leads, I had a good time watching this.

      1. Ted S.

        It’s always funny to me when I read people arguing about how the Hunger Games movies/books are a rip off of Battle Royale. To me both of those properties were clearly rip-off of Stephen King’s work, The Long Walk and The Running Man. Of course young people today are too lazy to look up anything beyond 2000s to base their argument on, LOL.

        1. Yeah, it’s funny because a truly ORIGINAL idea is really hard to come by. There is nothing wrong with being inspired by a certain idea so long as the writer/filmmaker is able to inject something fresh with it. As w/ Divergent, there is no kids-killing-kids storyline line in HG, yes they’re subjected to authoritarian government but the premise is really quite different. Even the protagonist herself is very different in that Tris is not a warrior in the way of Katniss, she became strong in the end because of her training but she’s not some kick-ass super hero.

  9. jackdeth72

    Hi, Ruth and Ashley:

    Oh, for the days of The Midwiitch Cuckoos and its film version, Village of the Damned . With their children’s extra sensory powers frightening the Bejabbers out of their parents and eventually, the scientific and military communities!… Those were the days!

    With few inexpensive and tacky looking special effects that delivered massive “Bang for the Buck!” chills and thrills for the audience. Faithfully maintaining a suspension of disbelief. While also supporting the idea that the audience is not being ripped off by their efforts!

    Then you have Twilight and The Hunger Games and a new and a new, simpler and easy to manipulate demographic opens up. Susceptible to budget killing green screen and special effects and a never ending stream of close ups and over sexualized youth.

    I’ve no doubt that Divergent will make money. But will the film be remember one, or five years from now?

    1. Hi Kevin! I think you made your feelings loud and clear that you’re not a fan of YA adaptations, and that is totally ok. I actually think the ideas and themes presented in HG and now Divergents are intriguing, tho I’m not exactly the targeted demographic. I guess I’m easy to please, I find it to be quite entertaining, even if it’s probably not going to be a cult classic years down the line.

    1. Thanks! Yeah it takes its time in the beginning, but I wouldn’t say it’s boring per se. The fear simulations stuff is handled quite well here, too.

  10. I’m so out of touch with pop culture I didn’t even know this was a thing. Sounds like yet another Hunger Games-y, Harry Potter-esque Young Adult franchise destined for lukewarm reception and a quick death at the box office (hopefully) and we can get back to watching the quality stuff Adam Sandler keeps making.

    1. Have you seen it Mark? I actually enjoyed it, not perfect but not terrible by any means and Shailene is a pretty compelling protagonist here.

    1. Thanks Mark! I like the premise too and I think it’s fleshed out pretty well even if w/ the pacing issues and my quibble about the villain. I hope you like this too.

  11. Brilliant work you two! Just finished reading Divergent again to be ready for the movie… We might get a special screening… Cross your fingers. Too excited!

    1. Awesome Zoë! Did you happen to check out my interview w/ Veronica Roth? I really like the ideas presented here about the dystopian future and authoritarian government. Hope you get a special screening where you live! Do let me know if you go to that ok?

      1. I saw it but couldn’t open it at work so I e-mailed it to myself. Need to read it still!

        She definitely had some different ideas, and I enjoyed how everything wasn’t spilled from the off but that it was built up to, made the journey feel proper, like we were discovering WITH Tris and Tobias.
        Thanks Ruth! I will definitely let you know!

        1. You made a really good point about discovering the journey w/ the two leads, Zoë. I’m glad you enjoyed the book, they made some changes to the film but seems that Roth herself is ok with that.

          1. Well, here’s me hoping! 😛

            Still shocked she is so young! I don’t usually suss out too much about authors/actors/etc usually, only from time to time!

            1. Yeah, she wrote the novel when she’s in college I think, amazing! But hey, YOU could write your own novel now if you set your mind to it. Being a voracious reader like yourself, I’d think you have good insights about what is a compelling story. Who knows we may see YOUR novel on the big screen before you know it 😉

              1. Yeah majorly impressively stuff that. LOL! Oh, I don’t know so much about being a novelist or anything like that, I don’t think that I would be able to wrangle something like that! 😛 But hey… I could totally dream, right? Get rich and famous hahahaa! 😀

    1. Ahah, are you just not a fan of the premise? I love stories set in a dystopian world, and Shailene is really good. Well maybe you could give it a shot as a rental? Who knows you might enjoy it.

  12. Vitali Gueron

    When comparing Divergent to Hunger Games and Twilight, the movie resembles Twilight more with its slow pace and heavy emphasis on romantic development but picks up and ends on a Hunger Games note with lots of action and the main female lead surviving to fight another day. 2.5 out of 5. vitali002@gmail.com

    1. Hmmm, I actually didn’t think there was a huge emphasis on the romance, and Tris is far more compelling & likable than Bella ever was. Thanks for your thoughts though, best of luck with the drawing 😀

      1. Vitali Gueron

        The romance was not as “in your face” as Twillight but some moments were almost identical like when he takes off his shirt to show off his tattoos…it was very PG, sappy and just what most people hate about Twillight. I do agree that Tris is far more likable than Bella ever was, I just wish she had some more Katniss in her, then always being in Four’s shaddow.

        1. Ahah, I thought that scene of him taking his shirt off was fine. I mean his tattoos revealed Four’s identity in a way, I didn’t see it as being sappy. I thought that by the end where Tris had to fight Four showed her dauntlessness, pardon the pun. She might not be the warrior princess that Katniss was and that’s kind of what made me like her as she’s more relatable.

  13. Pretty much agree with both reviews, but haven’t read the book. There are parts if the movie that probably could have been better (Tris’ challenges perhaps) and maybe there were pacing issues, or perhaps the ending came about too easilly, but I did like some parts of these flaws also. So, maybe they aren’t flaws afterall

    1. Hi Ryan! I actually think the ending came at the right time, it was a pretty long movie but towards the end the pace improved quite a bit. I think despite the flaws I still find myself entertained, glad you did too.

  14. I know what you mean about Donald Sutherland’s portrayal of President Snow — it was so perfectly done, so frightening. I’m looking forward to this film, even if it’s not the best. Though your reviews are some of the most favourable ones I’ve seen, so that gives me hope. 😀 Great reviews, both of you!!

    1. Thanks Elina! Yeah, Sutherland is a fantastic seasoned actor, he adds to much richness to his character. Now I’m not knocking Winslet here but I felt like her character could’ve been written in a more compelling way. Still though, the movie is worth checking out.

  15. Pingback: Question of the Week: Which movie(s) are you looking forward to in March? |

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