Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Out This Week: Divergent

It's been out for nearly a month in the US, but it's finally our turn to check out Divergent, the story of a young girl in a dystopian future,  based on the 2011 debut novel by Veronica Roth. Join me below the cut for a spoiler-free review of the latest YA adaptation on the block.

A movie adaptation is only as good as its source material, and unfortunately for Divergent it is based on a tedious snooze-fest of the same name. Imagine taking some of the good things about The Hunger Games and Harry Potter, constructing a poorly-paced yawn-worthy story around it, and putting one of the most beige characters I’ve ever had the displeasure of reading about in the lead role. That’s Divergent. Comparisons to The Hunger Games (while plentiful) are a bit unfair in truth. Divergent is to The Hunger Games as Coke Zero is to Coke; looks pretty much the same, but will leave you unsatisfied with a bad taste lingering in your mouth. Not even a contest.

Divergent is set in a post-apocalyptic future (what a new and original concept) where the population are split into factions depending on their skills and temperaments (you could go so far as to call them Districts, but semantics really). When the young people in the factions reach an arbitrary ‘grown-up’ age, they take a test to see which faction they belong to (not unlike a...Sorting Hat), but unlike in Harry Potter if you don’t like the cards you’re dealt, you can choose another House. I mean, Faction. Faction.

The Amish faction was highly sought after for their sick fashion.
Our heroine Tris doesn’t fit neatly into a faction box and is something called ‘Divergent’, but she can’t tell anyone because the people in charge don’t like free thinkers and will try and kill her and generally make life pretty shitty. She shockingly turns down all the other factions who are boring & involve servitude and joins Dauntless, which is the faction that is basically the police, except they’re a bit mental and wear black and have lots of tattoos and jump off trains and do parkour and stuff. PARKOUR COPS. Hard choice, huh? In Dauntless she meets Four, who is handsome, mysterious, brooding and a bit mean to her, so of course since this is a Young Adult novel she falls totally in love with him (even though he’s kind of a jerk). Some danger happens, he takes his shirt off, and they kiss. Young Adult.

Sharpie marker tattoos are hot, right?
I admit I only got about a third of the way into this book before I had to write it off as a lost cause. Hunger Games had me hooked after the first couple of pages, but Divergent never really grabbed me at all. I managed to suffer my way through three 50 Shades of Grey books, but couldn’t hit the halfway mark with this one. Says it all.

All that aside, I did go into the movie with a very open mind. The book was quite visually descriptive, and I was interested in seeing the film-makers’ take on some of the scenes (particularly the ‘testing’ sequences). For the most part, I did enjoy the movie more than the book. It was well shot, looked very nice, and the cast was solid, but while the script did a pretty good job of tightening the belt, it still felt like it was just meandering from one event to the next. The few scenes that I did genuinely like are a bit spoilery, so I’ll leave them out of the review, but I will say that the way Tris’s fears developed from her first ‘test’ to her final one was probably one of my favourite elements.

I believe the young cast truly did the best job they could with what they were given. Shailene Woodley did extremely well to try and inject some personality into Tris, and while she’s no Jennifer Lawrence, she showed enough fire to mark herself as one to keep an eye on. Up next she has the emotional adaptation of John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars, and I look forward to seeing her performance there. As Four, Theo James was pretty perfect; all calm, thinly-veiled power, though the real standout for me in this cast came as a bit of a surprise. Australia’s Jai Courtney ate up the screen as predatory Dauntless leader Eric. He was an unhinged jerk who you loved to hate.

Finally, a universe where it's cool for a bogan to have a neck tattoo!
With the sequels ‘Insurgent’ and ‘Allegiant’ due out in 2015 and 2016 respectively, I must say I haven’t been turned off following the story on screen. I didn’t love it, but it wasn’t offensively bad. Even though I think Tris is a pretty bland character, I like what Shailene Woodley did with her, and I can always just hold out hope that she eventually stops being a total wet fish and in future movies becomes the sort of female heroine that is far more valuable to a young audience than Bella Swan ever was.

2.5 stars for Divergent.
Hard to recommend as a cinema ‘must-see’ for anyone who isn’t already a fan. Wait for DVD.

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