Hollywood today is notorious for adapting long-running series of young adult novels to film. The box office success of movies like “Harry Potter,” “The Hunger Games,” and “Twilight” prove Hollywood’s infatuation with the genre.
However, this trend has also birthed adaptations of “Percy Jackson,” “The Mortal Instruments,” “Eragon,” and “Ender’s Game,” all of which disappointed, underwhelmed, and failed.
You can pencil in “Divergent” onto that list as well.
Set in a post-apocalyptic Chicago, “Divergent” follows Beatrice Proir (Shailene Woodley), a teenager set to enlist into one of the five “factions”: Erudite, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, and Abnegation, each with their unique personalities. Despite her parents’ leadership in Abnegation, a test for her faction aptitude concludes she is “divergent,” meaning she possesses qualities of multiple factions; a rarity in her society.
Beatrice’s uniqueness, however, is abhored by Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet), the tyrannical Erudite leader who preaches conformity with an iron fist. Thus, Beatrice – now named Tris – impulsively joins Dauntless and begins a combat-based training regimen; the setup to her battle against governmental oppression alongside her trainer and lover Four (Theo James).
Especially with the story’s uninspired setup of dividing populations based on skills or personalities – here’s looking at you, four Hogwarts houses and thirteen districts – “Divergent” lacks originality to stand out among the other countless adaptations of young adult novels. This in turn fails to capture an audience beyond loyal followers of the books.
The movie’s overabundance of spoon-feeding “I’ve known you my whole life, but let me remind you how our world works” dialogue, as well as a lack of attention toward tangible plot development also discourages newcomers on the bandwagon. It’s almost as if the filmmakers had their eyes set solely on a moneymaking film trilogy without regard for its necessary ingredients: a riveting conflict, a suspenseful but ultimately enjoyable thrill ride, and a promise of greater things to come. The film’s two-and-a-half-hour run time doesn’t help either.
That is not to say “Divergent” is entirely devoid of good things; Shailene Woodley and Theo James deliver respectable performances and look incredibly promising. Expect them to get more work. Of course, Oscar winner Kate Winslet excels in her role as an evil and prickly villain. Yet these actors have little effect on a movie that refuses to take advantage of their presence.
I do appreciate the movie’s premise about the value of individuality - after all, conformity is stupid - but that premise is lost by apathetic filmmakers who focused more on the money that flows from a wildly successful film franchise.
A la "Twilight," "Divergent" is a reminder that quality and box office success aren't mutually exclusive.
What a shame that is.