If you’ve been following me for a while, then you know I was very excited, but also very nervous for the Divergent film adaption. I wasn’t a fan of a lot of the promotional stuff, and quite a few of the casting decisions had me nervous (particularly Shailene Woodley as Tris, Theo James as Four, and Ben Lloyd-Hughes as Will; so, you know, no one important).
However, I have now seen the movie twice (first at the Detroit pre-screening a few weeks ago, then again on opening night this weekend), and I LOVE it. It exceeded my low expectations by a long shot, and although it’s definitely not perfect, I also definitely recommend seeing it. The fact that so many people haven’t liked it took me by surprise, so: give it a chance.
Of the seven friends I’ve seen it with, only one didn’t like it (which has to be some sort of record, getting that many people I know to agree about a single movie). Two of those friends knew absolutely nothing about the books, and they both understood and enjoyed the movie just fine, so if you haven’t had a chance to read the trilogy yet: Rest assured. You probably will be okay.
For opening night, my group all went as Dauntless. Check out that rad Tris tattoo Hannah Sharpied on me.
Moving on to more specific thoughts (so if you haven’t seen it yet and don’t want spoilers, you should probably stop reading now): While, like I said, Divergent isn’t perfect, more of it works than doesn’t work. They made quite a few changes to the events of the story, but these generally don’t affect the overall plot or character arcs, and they work better on screen, I think, than staying one hundred percent true to the book would have.
The one change I do have a problem with is how Natalie (Tris’s mom) dies. In the book, she full-out, very obviously sacrifices herself in order to let Tris get away to safety. In the movie, however, she’s simply caught by a stray bullet as BOTH she and Tris run for it. Since it’s less obvious of a sacrifice, I’m a bit worried about how they’ll handle Tris’s character development from here, since she’s basically supposed to become obsessed with her parents’ deaths and figuring out what the definition of sacrifice is to her and all that.
Acting-wise, I thought the majority of the cast did great. Shailene Woodley absolutely blew me away. She’s definitely grown as an actress since I last saw her in something. Theo James also did fantastic (I barely even noticed his accent, which was a nice surprise since it was so noticeable in the trailer cuts). The two of them have fantastic chemistry–looks like that lengthy casting search for Four paid off.
A couple friends and I stalked the Divergent set last May. This is outside the central school all children attend until they’re sixteen in Tris Prior’s dystopian Chicago. Off to the right, here, are a certain two actors you may recognize.
The supporting cast are generally good (Ben Lloyd-Hughes, it turns out, is a perfect Will). I’ve heard lots of complaints about how a lot of the actors don’t look like how the characters are described in the books, but I’ve always preferred someone who can play the personality properly to someone who looks spot on like the descriptions, so I didn’t mind.
Kate Winslet is appropriately icy and semi-robotic as Jeannine, I’m excited for Ansel Elgort‘s Caleb to get some more screen time in the next two (hopefully not three) installments, and although they get far less screen time than they deserve, Tris’s fellow initiates do well with what they have.
Which brings me to a problem I had with this adaption: the lack of time spent on the initiates. I get that the movie’s already two and a half hours long, but couldn’t we have spent just a few more of those minutes on developing Tris’s friends? Honestly, so little time was spent on Al that what time they did spend on him felt random and awkward. When he commits suicide, it barely even seems to matter, and that sucks. It’s an important issue they glossed right over.
Meanwhile, they cut all the scenes in which Peter (played by the ever charming Miles Teller) is truly awful (stabbing Edward, groping Tris, etc.). Without those, all we had was him taunting Tris in ways that honestly registered as funny–to the point that during the premiere screening, a friend and I kept whispering things to each other like, “Is it bad that I like Peter now?” followed by a, “No, I’m totally Team Peter now, too.” Which, you know, is not good. (Like at the end when they’re all running for the train and Peter is WAY ahead of the rest of them? This should be despicable, not lovable and funny.)
Christina (Zoë Kravitz) felt really underutilized. In the book she’s a fully-fleshed out, very important character with a life beyond the time she spends with Tris. In the movie, she is merely the easily forgettable sidekick. However, I was okay with the changes to the capture the flag scene, because I don’t think they would’ve had time to follow that whole subplot of the tension between Christina and Tris. If we could have gotten a bit more of her in other places to draw out her depth and unique characteristics, though, that would’ve been great. (And I just loved the changes to the capture the flag scene overall. So much more intense.)
Back to Caleb: I would have loved to have gotten a bit more of him at the beginning in order to give us a better hint that he wanted to defect to Erudite. This came completely out of left field in the movie, and although it’s a surprise in the book too, afterward we DO get Tris’s internal commentary about how she should have seen it coming. Obviously we can’t get that in the movie, so what we SHOULD have gotten were more foreshadowing-type hints leading up to it.
I thought Ray Stevenson‘s Marcus could have been better. He did well as far as tone and emotion and all that goes, but his American accent was terrible. Completely took me out of the scene whenever he spoke. Can we get the guy a vocal coach for Insurgent? Because otherwise he really is good. It’s just that accent.
(By the way, an apology for how much I’m improperly switching tenses in this. Back and forth and back and forth I go between past and present.)
The film does get a little campy sometimes, but I don’t think that’s necessarily bad. It keeps it from getting too dark.
A few of the lines I would’ve loved to have seen make it from the book weren’t there, like when Christina is afraid of moths and Will’s all, “That’s my girl. Tough as cotton balls.” And how the Dauntless are basically obsessed with chocolate cake. And, you know, the fact that Uriah exists (I’m excited for him to finally show up in the second one). The movie works fine without those elements, so it is fine. Just a bit of a personal disappointment for me.
On the other hand, the filmmakers also created some of their own lines that I didn’t like, like, at all. And based on the reactions of the other people in my theatre both times, it seems like nobody else liked them either. An especially unfortunate occurrence of this is in the scene when Fourtris kiss for the first time, because in the midst of them doing nothing more than kissing with their arms wrapped around each other while standing (so it’s not like they’re in bed or something), Tris breaks it off to say that she doesn’t want to move too fast. Which is okay–it is okay that she doesn’t want to do more than that when it’s her first time kissing not just Four, but any guy ever. But it’s also not like he’d suddenly reached under her shirt or shifted towards the bed or something. They were just kissing–just like they had been for a while at that point. So it didn’t make sense, and it was awkward, and it made everyone awkwardly laugh, which is not what a line like that should do.
(Meanwhile, don’t get me started on how annoyed I am at all the reviewers interpreting that line to mean that she’s “saving herself,” because seriously–all she’s saying is that she doesn’t want to do more than kiss at that time. Is it really so bad that a sixteen year old girl doesn’t want to have sex on essentially the first date? And even if she is waiting until marriage, THAT IS NOT A NEGATIVE THING ANY MORE THAN NOT AND–Anyway. I’m stopping myself before I go into Rant Mode.)
Questions for the class:
- Why did the Abnegation women wear makeup and heels? I will never understand the logic behind this decision.
- Why did we suddenly forget that Tris has a freaking bullet in her shoulder partway through the climax? I feel like that’s really not something you should forget.
- What, exactly, was the purpose of doing the fear landscapes the “Dauntless” way, rather than the “Divergent”? Coming out of the movie the first time, I thought I understood that this meant that Divergent face their fears head-on whereas Dauntless find ways to skirt around their fears (so like Tris wanted to be all Divergent and jump off the little bridge thing to conquer the fear of heights, but Tobias instead crawled across the bridge and into the neighboring building, thus avoiding it). But the second time through, I realized that it’s not as clear as that, so now I’m not sure about what they were trying to say there. I would have loved for that to have been clearer, because that was a really fun twist on the fear landscapes.
- What was up with Tris’s Dauntless clothes? Like I know Shailene is a good-looking human being so you want to show that off, but you also need to remember that she’s playing a character who’s grown up in a faction that didn’t allow tight-fitting or low-cut clothes. She shouldn’t have gone straight from her Abnegation grey to a Dauntless outfit that accentuated her cleavage.
My favorite scene is when they’re at the top of the John Hancock Center and Veronica Roth is the first one out the door and then she and Tris stand next to each other at the edge, looking out over Chicago. Absolutely beautiful moment.
My favorite line is when Peter tells Tris that she won’t shoot him and she goes, “Why does everyone keep saying that?” AND THEN SHE DOES. (YOU SHOW ‘EM, TRIS.)
I enjoyed the music throughout, and it was really cool how much of actual, modern day Chicago they used. Tris’s voice overs are a nice touch, and I enjoy how they chose to make it such a first person narrative (we’re never somewhere Tris isn’t, so it keeps everything tight and focused).
Overall, the pacing could have been a little better, as could have been the character development and script and all that. The cinematography was a little funky and the sets could have been cooler. But most of what they did works, and the movie is fun and holds true to the overall vision and feel of the book. I really, truly, did very much enjoy it. And I want everyone to see it. And I can’t wait to see Insurgent.
3.5 out of 5 stars. Purchase tickets to see Divergent here.