Wanting to give the film a chance, I went and saw Divergent this weekend. Having become a fan of The Hunger Games after the movie came out, I've been going to see other movies based on Young Adult books. So far however, lightning hasn't struck twice. Beautiful Creatures was awful and City of Bones was an incoherent mess. Though not as awful as those two, Divergent doesn't come off much better.
When I looked up the movie online afterwards, it had a www.clickthecity.com user rating of 5 stars. I couldn't believe it, until I remembered the 143 minutes or so I spent watching the movie in the theater. Even at 10:30 am, fan girls were out in force and squealing with glee every 90 seconds or so.
Did “Four” (that’s the lead's name, seriously) take off his shirt?
Did Tris (Shailene Woodley) just blush after having a wet dream about hunky Four (Theo James)?
Did the title just show up at the end of the credits?
SQUEAL! (no, seriously, this happened, I shit you not)
You get the gist.
If you've ever watched any high school clique movie/ TV show, or had any experience with book series like Sweet Valley High or the Diary ng Panget books, then you’re familiar with the flow of the story. Dorky girl comes of age, and she wants to join the cool kids (in this case, a bunch of free running, vest-wearing, henna-tattooed teenagers that belong to the “faction” called “Dauntless). She does something that catches their attention and she’s swept up into the gang, leaving behind her parents/friends and their boring ways. She gets to eat at the cool table, dress in all the cool black gear, and beat people up. In the end, she discovers that hey, the cool kids are kind of stupid, and hey, it’s okay to be different.
Maybe I could have bought into this movie if the world and the society had been better thought out and developed. As a science fiction nerd, I've read a ton of material about future dystopias. A lot of them are built around the inequality between two or more groups, from the Morlocks and Eloi in The Time Machine to Dick’s androids dreaming of electric sheep. However, in each of those, the motivations of each group are largely fleshed out and the world is richer for it.
In Divergent, each group or “Faction” (the series seems to take the most highfalutin synonym for each word and makes it into a proper noun) essentially boils down to one central characteristic. The aforementioned Dauntless are brave, the Erudite are smart, the Amity are kind, the Castor are truthful, and the Abnegation are selfless. However, this setup would mean that any one person that belongs to that faction becomes completely one-dimensional, which flies in the face of the thirty plus years of experience I have as a member of the human race. People are complicated, so good characters need to be complicated. The fact that 99% of the people of this world can be so easily categorized into one of these five groups is malarkey.
The set-up is so forced it hurts, and because I couldn't get past the inherent weakness of the society, I couldn't suspend my disbelief enough to buy into the movie. Then they go and throw in a plot by the Erudite to overthrow Abnegation as the leaders of society. See, Abnegation are the leaders because they’re selfless (I'm sure in the books there's more to it, but the movie version doesn't go into it). Erudite are smart and smart is better. That’s really about it. The rest of the movie is focused on teenage moping, some silly made-up martial arts training, and a game of capture the flag.
To be fair, I thought the actors were decent and that the production design wasn't bad, but the material is too weak and the script too lackluster for them to elevate this film to watchable for me. I’d like to see more of the two leads in other movies that give them more to work with, but this was a bad choice for a first role. Then again, I bet the fans will be enough to move the studio to make a sequel. After all, Lionsgate isn't a big studio, so this couldn't have taken much money to produce. They’re likely to make a profit, especially when international tickets are factored in.
I’m not sure how much better the books could have been. I've got a feeling that they’re a lot like the Twilight novels; made for a very specific group of people, but complete garbage for everyone else. I can’t fault people for enjoying it, but I thought it was an excruciating two and a half hours that I’ll never get back.