Following the success of dystopian future of The Hunger Games comes another young adult adaptation franchise that has been making marketing headlines to become the next Hunger Games series: Divergent. Does it have the makings to become the next big franchise? I wouldn't say that about now, but who knows what will happen with Insurgent, especially if it also takes in the same momentum as Catching Fire did, appearing to be a superior movie from its predecessor. As of now, I have my reservations with Divergent being great, but it has the potential to become as big as the other franchise.
Beatrice "Tris" Prior lives in a world where they coexist as factions. Each faction has their own purpose in society, and by living through the norm, there is peace in the land. She belonged with Abnegation, or the selfless faction, but never really fit in with her faction. That's why the test they take when they come of age is important: it tells them what faction they truly belong in. However, she found out that she was of a rare kind and that her tests were inconclusive: she was a Divergent. Divergents are singled out as rebels in society, primarily for being unable to fit into their norm, and that secret she must protect in order to survive.
We see her end up in Dauntless, and face the challenges and eventual romance that was in store for her in order to gain status in her new faction. However, her being a Divergent is put to use when a bigger ploy began to brew, a ploy that threatens the peace and the coexistence of the factions.
I don't remember much of the specific details from the book, but by the flow of the plot, it rarely deviated from its source material. While the justification to the book can be commendable, I think the question is, should the book have had a film adaptation? While we get to see much of the Dauntless faction (which really is mostly underground, as the more complex and detailed sets seem to be more appropriate with other factions), there wasn't much in store to keep me interested. The most technological advancement we get to see are laid out at the latter part of the movie, and the most action happened at the start. Considering the different personalities that clashed, we weren't treated much with a fight, with all the adventure sequences kept to a minimal.
The scenes that were memorable, or at least the ones that are most interesting are the scenes in the fear sequences. It was executed well: from the flow of the sequences, even to the little details. It went smoothly, and not how I imagined the cut was going to be. Despite being repeated numerous times (I guess the setting of a fear doesn't really change as much, even if the fear is as vague, like heights or enclosed spaces or drowning), the intensity of the scenes don't wane, although these scenes were only briefly shown.
One of the biggest assets of this film is that the score is composed by Hans Zimmer, whose shown excellent work in other films. I think I'd give the score another listen, as the music was overshadowed by the visuals of the film, but did not do anything to accentuate certain parts of the film. The cinematography was very vivid though, making the surface of the city pleasant to look at, compensating for the limited possibilities at the Dauntless headquarters, with the set made mostly of large metal rooms and rocks. It was also the advantage of the film that wide shots were taken of the supposed intense scenes. Lighting, however, was off in some parts, though it barely made much difference to the atmosphere.
I think that Shailene Woodley is a good actress, but I had a hard time buying her character. Compared to the source, the way her character was written was a better substitute, but something was off. It felt unnatural, as if she herself was uncomfortable with her character. She does her sequences well, but there was something missing, passion for the character, maybe? Same goes for Theo James, whose character seemed to be stoic at all times, even when showing some sort of compassion. Their exchanges were awkward most of the time, even when Tris was trying to convince Four that they were in love, or her act of valiance just to convince him. While I admire that they weren't made to look over the moon in love, but at least show some feeling, anything convincing, really.
Even Kate Winslet, who gives a good performance most of the time, was quite cold in this one. It might be because of her pregnancy (too much stress of enacting a character might be bad?), but nevertheless, her performance felt lacking, particularly the cold, calculating, villainous turn of her character. On paper, the plan and the execution was of a darker tone, but it failed to execute that atmosphere on screen.
While Woodley and James were joined by a good group of supporting characters, there wasn't much interaction with them, though there was an effort to establish their presence onscreen. For an intimidating take on Eric, Jai Courtney did do a good job, as his character was truly loathsome. There was also Maggie Q, who managed to steal the little scenes she has. Zoe Kravitz did get a bit of solo scene time; same goes for Ansel Elgort, although I'm primarily waiting for his other film to be released this year. Ashley Judd, who play's Tris' mother is actually an important role in Tris' character. I would have appreciated it if Tris had asked her mother if she was Divergent (instead of repeatedly asking if she was from Dauntless), and her mother's story was told so she would have a better understanding of her status in the community.
I think if I didn't read the source material, the premise of the movie might have interested me more, although I might write it off as a Hunger Games clone. However, despite looking aesthetically pleasing, I'm not convinced that I would go to the cinema and watch the next one. Maybe if I read the next book or so.
Final Word: It has the potential to become the next big franchise, and if the sequel pushes through, I hope we get to see more of the surface world, and that it picks up its pace and momentum.
Cast: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet
Director: Neil Burger