The movie begins with a girl named Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) living within the walls of a dystopian, post apocalyptic (yawn) Chicago where people have been divided into factions which are tasked with different jobs to help further the government. Children are born into factions until they come of age, which is when they are given some sort of strange personality test and tasked with choosing the faction they will live in the rest of their lives.
When Beatrice’s test results are inconclusive, (she is a Divergent[which is bad, the people in charge don’t like Divergents]), the test administrator tells her not to tell anyone, and that she put her test results in as her default faction. She then has to choose between the five factions, and she chooses Dauntless, which represents Bravery and is responsible for the protection of all of the other factions.
If this sounds a little confusing, you aren’t wrong, it is confusing. The movie doesn’t do a good job of helping you understand how this world came to be, or showing the efficiency of the overly complicated faction system. A ruling faction is mentioned a few times, but the way the faction is portrayed makes them seem like a poverty stricken, struggling to survive group.
But I digress, Beatrice, doing her best to accept her new faction changes her name to Triss and competes in a training ritual that results in becoming factionless upon failure. While in training we see Triss go through the typical coming of age trope, romance included. She then finds out that one of the people in charge of training, and her new boy toy, Four (Theo James) is also a Divergent, and so he begins to teach her how to go under the radar to keep from being killed.
Meanwhile another one of the factions, Erudite, which represents intelligence, plots with Dauntless to stage a coup and overthrow Abnegation to become the ruling faction. The Dauntless soldiers are given a mind-altering serum that makes them mindless robots that follow every order implanted in their brains. However, it doesn’t affect the Divergents.
In the end, the girl gets the boy, they stop the coup, but the stage is set for all out war, and based on how the movie is doing at the box office, another sequel.
Let’s start the critique here, the movie is confusing. I spent most of my time during the two-hour and thirty minutes trying to figure out factions, what they meant, and why they were there. The hostility between the faction system seemed warranted, but I found myself forgetting the names of the factions, which were in reality just fancy word replacements for what each faction represented. There were a few interesting plot points and great twists, but it was overshadowed by the overly complicated plot that attempted to draw too much inspiration from other stories in its genre.
Which brings me to another point, The script felt like the writers were just pulling pages out of Harry Potter, Twilight, and Hunger Games in an effort to make Divergent the next big young adult fiction to screen adaptation sensation. It’s simple, they were trying way too hard to replicate these other movies, that the story got lost in the been there, done that bin. The movie breaks immersion multiple times with music from Ellie Goulding, piercing through serious moments as if to say “Look! Look at our popular, edgy artist that you young adults can relate to.” fully removing the audience from the already fragile world being built.
The pacing of the movie was painfully slow. I found myself checking the clock on my phone multiple times and thinking to myself, “They’ve wasted half the movie on these training exercises, how are they going to get to any actual plot?”. However, the main plot was gotten to, eventually. The subplots took up way too much time and there was no need to drag them out as long as they were. By the time the main plot started to come around, the movie was more than two-thirds of the way done, forcing the third act to feel rushed, hitting major points in passing and turning them into only second thoughts.
The movie wasn’t all bad though, The acting from Woodley and James was great, especially together. The chemistry they had shined through in their acting, and they were easily the best duo out of all of the characters. Not to say that the other characters aren’t interesting. Each character we are introduced to has an interesting back story, and relatable motivations for everything they do. If there is one thing the writers got right, it was the character development.
We can only hope that a sequel brings with it new writers, a new director, and better pacing. I would love to see a jump in quality like that from The Hunger Games to Catching Fire. While the story is interesting, it is brought down by fundamentally bad filmmaking. If Divergent can find a way to hold its own in a world so saturated by similar movies, there may be hope for it. But until then we are left with another clone riding on the coattails of the successes of the other young adult fictions that came before.