"I don't want to be just one thing. I can't be. I want to be brave, and I want to be selfless, intelligent, and honest and kind. Well, I'm still working on kind."
Let me start off by saying that I had no prior knowledge of Veronica Roth's novel which this film is based on so I can't make any claims on how faithful the adaptation is. Although I will say that 5 minutes into the film I kind of got a feeling that this futuristic dystopian story had some similarities to The Hunger Games which made me wonder if Divergent was not yet another one of Suzanne Collins' novel adaptations. The main reasons why this film was among my most anticipated films for 2014 were director Neil Burger, for his unique work in Limitless and The Illusionist, and Shailene Woodley who has been terrific in just about every film I've seen her in. So I was greatly disappointed when I discovered that Divergent, which had a heavy message aimed towards young adolescents about not being labelled or categorized and discovering who you really were by following your own path in life, was being a bit hypocritical in its approach considering it can easily be categorized as yet another generic and formulaic teen romantic adventure film full of cliches. This was far from Burger's previous films which I found unique, perhaps due to their indie approach. However having said all this, I still found Divergent entertaining enough to mildly recommend it thanks in most part to the Shailene Woodley's lead performance. I'm not Divergent's target audience, but I think adolescents and young teenagers will love this film and their expectation will be fulfilled. They are the only reason why the planned sequels will get to be made, but the truth of the matter is that this is a much lesser film than The Hunger Games and will easily be forgotten in time.
Vanessa Taylor and Evan Daugherty adapted the screenplay from Roth's novel setting the story in a futuristic dystopian Chicago where people live confined inside wired walls. They are also divided into five factions based on their virtues. Their is Abnegation who represent the selfless, Dauntless the brave, Erudite the intelligent, Candor the honest, and Amity the peaceful. The Abnegation faction are the ones in charge of governing the city considering they are selfless and always put others first. They are merciful people. Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) and her brother, Caleb (Ansel Elgort) have been raised by their parents, Andrew (Tony Goldwyn) and Natalie (Ashely Judd), in this faction, but when they turn 16 they are free to choose the faction they feel they belong with. Before they decide they must take a test which basically tells them what faction they really belong to, but they are free to decide on their own. Everyone always fits into one faction, but if you make a wrong choice you could end up factionless (homeless). When Tris takes the test she discovers she's one of the few people who is divergent (meaning she has basically all the virtues from every faction), but she must keep it to herself because these people don't fit in to this dystopian society where being different is viewed as something dangerous. When the day comes for Tris and Caleb to make their decision she ends up choosing Dauntless, who are basically in charge of the security and enforcing order in the city. Knowing that faction comes before family she must bid them farewell, and her training with Dauntless begins. At first she doesn't fit in due to the extreme physical and intense psychological tests that their instructors, Four (Theo James) and Eric (Jai Courtney), make them go through. If she doesn't pass the initiation program she will be sent with the factionless, but at the same time if they discover she is divergent, she could be killed so the adventure begins (and of course the romance as well).
I enjoyed the performance from the young actors in this film and I think Woodley had great chemistry with James. A lot of people had issues with his performance, but I thought he was very believable and pulled it off well. The cast elevate this film and make the film's extended running time worth the while. There are some beautiful scenes that work really well in Divergent, I loved the cinematography and the dream sequences were probably the highlight of the film. There was also a scene where Tris went down a canopy line through the destroyed buildings that looked pretty cool. The story is formulaic and has its flaws. It felt melodramatic towards the end and tries too hard to leave audiences hooked for the sequel. The first part of the film suffers for taking to long to set things up and introducing each character, but once we are with Tris in Dauntless as she goes through the initiation process the film picks up. The film also fails to engage the audience as to why the divergent are so dangerous to their society, but it all seems to rely on the message the film is trying to give to young teenagers. It is a metaphor playing on the fear of adolescents of finding their place in society and discovering who they really are. It wasn't the film I was hoping for, but I am feeling merciful today so I will give it a passing grade.