Cary, NC — Divergent is the latest young adult adaptation from Lionsgate, the same company behind the similar The Hunger Games. Like that film, Divergent features an engaging performance from its female lead, Shailene Woodley, and is set in a post-apocalyptic setting where society is divided into five different factions that each represent a different virtue.
Overlong and never able to come off as serious as it intends to be, Divergent still manages to entertain thanks to its lead performances and the hint of an intriguing world promised to be explored in future installments.
Divergent: Strong Setup and Characters…
It’s hard out there for the first installment of any potential franchise. First, you have to introduce and build a world that an audience will buy into. Not to mention the creation of relatable and interesting characters that can carry a story. Divergent is pretty capable in both of these departments. I was particularly intrigued by the deserted earth outside the war torn city where the film takes place. The film only offers a few hints as to the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ of what happened, but I’m curious to learn more about it.
The film’s two leads, Shailene Woodley (The Descendants, The Secret Life of the American Teenager) and newcomer Theo James have good chemistry. Woodley makes it look easy to anchor a film of this size. She’s a believable and easy to root for heroine.
Before Divergent, I had some sort of grudge against James. I can’t really put my finger on it, maybe I was just jealous of his good looks, but I really couldn’t stand him. Here though, he turned me into a believer. As I said before, he has an easy chemistry with Woodley and he proves more than capable in the actions scenes. He even lands a few laughs with a few well timed one-liners, all while brooding like a teen idol pro. These young adult adaptations live or die on their leads, and Divergent certainly succeeds there.
..But Lots and Lots of Flaws
For all that it gets right, the film gets just as much wrong. First off, the films’ director, Neil Burger (Limitless, The Illusionist) struggles to find a tone. It slips back and forth from over seriousness to entertaining camp, which resulted in me never being able to take the film as seriously.
Also, the film is never able to set up any viable threat. Even the film’s main villain, played by the Oscar winning Kate Winslet, somehow never feels like an imminent threat. She’s more of a plot device, used to move the film forward and nothing more.
The film’s 2.5 hour run time seems like a misstep. I usually don’t mind for a movie to take extra time to flesh out its world and characters, but Divergent is overlong. Too much time is spent on the minute detail of how our heroine becomes the warrior her fraction demands. Important, sure, but a simple training montage would have sufficed instead of 40-60 minutes of screen time.
Despite Flaws, Still Worth Seeing
OK, so I know it seems that I’m falling on the negative side of all things Divergent, but to be honest, I still really enjoyed it.
I think Shailene Woodley has an undeniable screen presence and I was genuinely curious to find out more about the world hinted at throughout the film. Not as successful and entertaining as The Hunger Games, nor as entertainingly campy and silly as the Twilight series, Divergent still, despite its overly long run-time and many flaws, actually left me wanting more.