It’s going to be easy and unavoidable to compare Neil Burger’s Divergent to Gary Ross’ The Hunger Games. Dystopian setting, female lead, tropes of survival, romance and most of all the rebellion against government.
But Divergent was able to do a few things much better then the original Hunger Games film that will set it apart, by a fairly decent margin.
Set in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic Chicago, citizens are separated by faction, each one possessing a certain personality trait. Abnegation members are selfless, Amity are kind, Erudite are the intelligent ones, Candor are the legal and honest ones and Dauntless exude bravery. They are all assigned jobs and tasks inside their faction; Dauntless are soldiers, Abnegation run the government because they are public servants and so on. On their 16th birthday, every citizen must take a test to see which faction suits them best. When Abnegation member Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) takes the test her results are inconclusive, thus she is labeled “divergent.” Being a “divergent” is forsaken, uttered in whispers, one who is divergent is a free and independent thinker, unable to be pigeonholed into one characteristic, thus making them dangerous and unable to control.
Prior is already a curious creature, questioning her place in society and always wondering where she really belongs. When it comes time to choose her faction she leaves her family and goes to Dauntless, where she changes her name to “Tris,” and embraces the rough and hands on initiation process. As she befriends Christina (Zoë Kravitz) and a few other new recruits, her trainer Four (Theo James) is hard on her, pushing the Abnegate well beyond her limits. As a member of Dauntless Tris is taught that above all else, your mentality needs to be toughness, survival and the mantra of never giving up.
As someone who has not read any of the books in the series, I went into the film blind. Knowing it was a YA megahit, you have expectations and frankly I’d by lying to you if I said I wasn’t secretly praying it didn’t end up being a Twilight nightmare.
Based on the Veronica Roth bestseller, the film spends an awfully long time setting the backstory and ground work and often times forgetting about complimentary characters and supporting pieces. They coming into the picture far later in the film and thus leading to us not caring too much about their relationships with out leads. That being said, I enjoyed the journey Tris goes on, adapting and evolving as a member of Dauntless. She isn’t a superhero; she takes her bumps and bruises from Four’s partner, the smug Eric (Jai Courtney) and fellow faction members Peter (Miles Teller) and Molly (Amy Newbold) thus making her human and someone we can root for.
The problem with adapting books into the big screen is often times directors will try and recreate the book scene for scene thus missing out on things that need to be emphasized in the film version. Divergent is fairly safe in every aspect, never pushing the boundaries or taking too many risks, and that’s Burger’s fault. But the story flows fairly well and it’s interesting to see how this dystopia is separated. The film shines in its first two acts where Tris battles her inner voice in a desperate attempt in finding herself.
While silly articles have popped up comparing Jennifer Lawrence to Woodley, or calling Woodley the next Lawrence, it should not discount anything either of the two are doing. Woodley’s performance is strong; she shows a wide range of emotions, much like she has previously in starring roles. At times, Woodley is a bit out of place due to the physicality of the role, and I wasn’t sold on the romance angle with Four either; this coming as a big surprise to me seeing how much chemistry she had with Miles Teller (also in this film as a brash member of Dauntless) in The Spectacular Now. But we like her because she is one of the downtrodden, she’s the one fighting for good and transforming herself before our very eyes. We can feel similarly for James’ Four, whose muscles and sharp looks are nothing behind the complexity of his past and reason for his guarded personality.
The Hunger Games was poorly shot, rushed towards a unfulfilling ending and had a second lead no where near capable of being a counterpart to the star. It was simply in the wrong hands and was delivered in a way that seemed to appease few that read the book but dropped the ball on a larger scale when it comes to making a fluid film. Divergent seemed to avert these problems, right away the camera work was steady and crisp, the story unfolding had enough (if not too much) context, Tris and Four held their own together, while characters like Christina, Peter, Eric, Jeanine (Kate Winslet), Tori (Maggie Q) and more shaped the new world we were seeing. The fact is, in my eyes, it was simply a more enjoyable film from a technical standpoint and from a "watching the journey from point A to point B" perspective. The development of Tris' character, mentality and resolve was greater then that of Katniss whose sole objective was survival.
With two more films on the way, there is plenty of room for improvement. I’d like for Burger to get more creative with effects and cultivate the secondary characters more. Woodley can certainly lead a franchise but she can’t do it alone. If Burger wants Roth’s series to succeed, he should seriously study The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and see how much better that film was from its predecessor and why it made such a dramatic leap forward.
Edited by venom lyrix - 3/23/14 at 9:31am