File under “films with a very promising concept, but poor execution”. Based on the book of the same name, it tells the story of Beatrice “Tris” who lives in a dystopian future society where everyone is divided into five ‘factions’ according to their personality traits. Tris is special though, she is a ‘divergent’ meaning she doesn’t fit neatly into a box. Fearing for her life, she chooses a faction anyway to ‘fit in’ and eventually figures out how to get by while simultaneously partnering with her instructor/trainer to stop a small revolution – standard deal really.
The trailer for this film was actually pretty good, and I eagerly anticipated its release. The themes of individualism, trying to fit in but not, and raging against the machine are well-worn, especially recently in the movie world, and at times, because of the female protagonist and her character’s undeniable similarities to Katniss Everdeen, this seems like a poor attempt at the hunger games. Of course, even formulaic movies can be good, and films like this present opportunities for deep and interesting character studies.
Unfortunately, that’s ultimately where Divergent falls flat. The writing is just bad. There’s a lot going on here – tensions between up and coming initiates into the new faction, exploring and confronting your deepest fears, and having to choose between family and factional allegiance. But the script is rather poor, and despite fairly decent performances by the lead actors, especially Shailene Woodley (who incidentally was considered for the role of Katniss Everdeen before it was given to Jennifer Lawrence), the film fails to really draw the viewer in and invite us to feel the turmoil of the characters, instead relying on loud noises and explosions to keep us interested. Also, all the characters aside from the leads are written like cardboard cutouts, and I realized this when certain major characters were killed, and I felt no different than if a bond villain henchman had been shot.
Overall the film is fairly entertaining, but it isn’t one that I would watch again, nor is it one I can recommend. If there’s nothing else to see other than mindless action (and in Hong Kong, that is often the case because film distributors here don’t seem to know anything about films) then this is decent choice – it is a step above that, but not a big step. It isn’t quite as poorly-executed and disappointing as say, In Time, and it just manages to keep you interested. There are certain elements of the story I had a problem with, although I have a feeling that those stem from the source text rather than the film itself. One does get the feeling that a lot of detail, some of it important, was lost in the adaptation of the book to the screen.
I wanted to like this film, and the production design and costumes were quite well done, but boy is the writing bad. Watch it if there’s nothing else, watch it if you’re bored, and try to avoid paying to see it.