Monday, 21 April 2014

Divergent


In the future, in a world divided by factions based on your personality, Tris (Shailene Woodley) learns she is Divergent; this means she fits into more than one faction, and is, thus, a threat to the system. Given the choice, she leaves her family and heads for the Dauntless faction, for the brave and fearless. However, upon arrival she learns that initiation into Dauntless may not be as easy as she'd hoped. Under the watchful guidance of Four (Theo James), Tris works her way through both physically and psychologically difficult challenges, while other factions begin to rebel, and a far bigger plan surfaces.

The YA adaptation is quickly becoming one of the most common selling points for films that apply to it; within the last decade we've had Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games, The Mortal Instruments, The Vampire's Assistant, A Series of Unfortunate Events...etc. Nowadays it really is far from a rarity, and each pose their individual stories and themes adapted from the books they were taken from. After we bid farewell to the Harry Potter series in 2011, The Hunger Games has owned the playing field with its two incredibly successful instalments so far. Yet, here still comes Divergent. Is it a threat to The Hunger Games, either critically or commercially? Well, no. It hasn't evoked the best response from film critics, and it'll be hard pressed to overtake Catching Fire's $860million worldwide gross, but, nonetheless, Divergent is one of the better YA to be sent out recently.

This came as a shock to me. Having read the novel roughly a year before this film's release, I thought I knew exactly what to expect. I wasn't a great lover of the source material; it lacks character and takes far too long to get going before going overly bombastic towards the end. Whilst the latter criticism can still be seen here, the lack of character is not a complaint to be applied to this adaptation. Woodley gives a terrific performance as Tris; whilst beginning quiet and almost shy, she doesn't under perform enough to make us doubt Tris' breakthrough in the film's final act. Even here Woodley excels. During the film's more emotional sequences she has just enough power in her to evoke the perfect audience response. Theo James is also solid as Four; his acting isn't really anything to marvel at, but he does the job nicely. Why Kate Winslet was cast as Jeanine, however, is still something I'm trying to work out. If teenage Winslet looked ahead and foresaw her performance here, I imagine she'd have swapped places with Jack during the famous farewell scene in Titanic. It borders on painful.

I don't like praising YA adaptations, or any adapted screenplay really, for their story. But Divergent does the impossible; within its first film (of four) an entire world has been created. It may not seem like a foreseeable future for humanity, but within the film it sort of does. The CGI for the big sweeping shots isn't great, but visually Divergent is generally strong. It has nice little bursts of action during the middle which are loaded with well designed costumes and interesting set pieces. A Capture the Flag style game sequence in particular stands out as a great example of how to do an action scene without blowing everything up; a concept that other films can't seem to understand.

But, this is about the only interesting burst of action before Divergent's ridiculously over-the-top conclusion. Everything beforehand is a bit slow, it takes far too long for the pace to pick up, and once it does we get a nice little burst of action before we have to sit through another long stretch. I get that it is needed for the story and it helps to develop the characters, but the writing isn't strong enough to keep you interested. It is well written, for the most part, but not to the standard it seems to think it is. There's also a severe lack of development with any characters but Tris and Four, and the individualistic message just gets lost amidst the action as the film progresses. But, to be perfectly honest, all of my problems with this film come directly from its source. The pacing issues, the unrealistic message, the weak characters. Whilst some extra work could have been done to take these problems out of the equation, Divergent would be a completely different film without them.

The Hunger Games it may not be, but Divergent has opened its series in style. Woodley and James have strong holds on their characters already, and they give the impression that they will grow with the role. There's a distinct visual style here too, and an individual one; it was nice to see the cinematographers not just rip off the work of other current franchises. Yes, there are some flaws, and no its not all perfect, but any issue I find with in film traces back to the book. Whether I'm just looking at this the wrong way, but as an adaptation, Divergent is tough to fault. As stated in the opening of this review, I wasn't a lover of the novel. So perhaps my expectations were low; low enough to really boost my views on this film. Divergent exceeded my expectations phenomenally. Right now, this is second best to The Hunger Games. And with another 57 probably YA adaptations to come soon, I kind of hope it stays this way.

To Summarise: Despite its flaws, Divergent remains one of the rare YA adaptations that exceeds its base material, thanks to its impressive visual style and a terrific performance from Shailene Woodley.


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