Divergent May Just Be One of the Best YA Adaptations of the Year

Divergent

Divergent-posterRelease Date: March 21, 2014
Cast: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Zoe Kravtiz, Ansel Elgort, Maggie Q, Mekhi Phifer, Jai Courtney, Miles Teler, Kate Winslet
Director: Neil Burger
Studio: Summit Entertainment, Red Wagon Entertainment
Distributor: Summit Entertainment, Lionsgate
Genre(s): YA Adaptation, Science Fiction, Dystopian Fiction
Based On the Divergent series by Veronica Roth

Rating: ★★★★☆
Review Spoilers: Low
IMDB | Rotten Tomatoes | Wikipedia

Divergent has been one of my most anticipated films of 2014 for a while now. (Most of the other movies on that list are superhero related so go Divergent!) I read the the first two books in the series a while back when I was backpacking in Europe and so I have a bit of an attachment to them. Regardless of what I thought of the books they were always going to hold a lot meaning to me because I’ll forever associate them with that trip. And I actually really did like them. So when I heard that they were going adapt the series for the big screen I was really excited.

I want to sort of fall into the tendency to compare the  Divergent and the Hunger Games but I’m really hesitant to do that. The only real comparisons are that this is a young adult adaptation with a female lead set in a dystopian future. Both are also good adaptations of the original source material. (And they are both done by Summit Entertainment and Lionsgate, too, I’ll give you that.) That latter point is the most important because we’ve seen so many young adult adaptations flounder and fail recently. After the success of Harry Potter, Twilight, and the Hunger Games it seemed for a while like people wanted to just push out whatever films they could on whatever hot properties they could acquire. That’s why even as hopefully optimistic as I am I can never shake that fear that the film versions of stories aren’t up to snuff. (Maze Runner and the Giver? I’m looking at you guys.)

I never had any doubts about Divergent, though. From the moment I saw their first released footage at San Diego Comic Con last year I knew this was going to be a great movie.

And I was totally right.

Dystopian Chicago: where the trains still run and jumping from them is normal! [E! Online]

Dystopian Chicago: where the trains still run and jumping from them is normal! [E! Online]

For those of you who may not have read the books, Divergent takes place in a dystopian Chicago. The remnants of humanity exist here in the city and are split into five faction – Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, and Erudite. Each faction values on particular value or personality trait be it intelligence, selflessness, or courage. Beatrice Prior (played by Shailene Woodley) is the hero of our story and she’s born into Abnegation, a faction that values self-less service and simplicity, scorns vanity, and live in simple homes wearing largely dull colors.

As her sixteenth birthday approaches she prepares to undergo a test that will tell her which of the factions she is best suited to join for the rest of her life. She knows it’s not Abnegation but she doesn’t know who or what she should be and she’s hoping the test will tell her. Except there’s a problem. Beatrice is “divergent.” She embodies the values of multiple factions and in a world built on structure and rigid expectations that’s a dangerous thing to be. There are people who would kill her if she knew and yet instead of sticking to the safety and anonymity of Abnegation she follows her gut and joins Dauntless. But Beatrice – now called Tris – is in a place that’s dangerous, competitive, and violent. If she doesn’t perform well she’s cast out in the end. And in the mean time she’s got to keep her true self – her divergent self – hidden from any who may realize it.

At least she’s got some nice eye candy?

Four, a Dauntless instructor, takes a special interest in her. And with the help of some good friends she might just have a chance. But there are greater powers at work. There’s only so much Tris can do and the end repercussions will be felt all throughout society. The whole movie has you in suspense wondering just how things will work out with Tris, the factions, and everything else. It’s not a movie that will bore you by any stretch.

The story itself is good; it has some holes at times but it’s solid, fun, and action packed.

The cast, though, are what really bring it all together.

Shailene Woodley as Tris and Theo James as Four in the Dauntless training grounds [Summit Entertainment]

Shailene Woodley as Tris and Theo James as Four in the Dauntless training grounds [Summit Entertainment]

Shailene Woodley was perfectly cast as Tris. I’m going to admit that I have a really hard time liking her because I hated the Secret Life of an American Teenager to no end. But she has really come into her own and I can’t imagine anyone else in this role. Tris confident but still vulnerable and Woodley does it perfectly. Theo James plays four rounding out our romantic leads and the enigmatic aspects of his character really only encourage teen viewers pining over him. But unlike other young adult adaptations, the movie is not meant to be a love story. It’s part of it, yes. But it’s not all of it. It’s about self discovery and society more than it’s about Four and Tris’s relationship which is one of the things I really appreciated. Divergent, like the Hunger Games, features a strong female lead going through the motions to protect those she cares about but unlike Katniss Divergent‘s Tris doesn’t come into this with any sort of survival skills. She learns, she adapts, and she struggles. Often, she fails. And this is not a world in which you can fail.

The rest of the cast are pretty much perfect for their roles as well. There are few movies that you can look and thing, “Yeah. Actually, I agree with ever single choice they made here.” This is one of them. From Ansel Elgort as Tris’s brother, Caleb, to Miles Teller as the douchey, Dauntless transfer and Zoe Kravitz as one of Tris’s only good friends in Dauntless every single secondary character was paired with the perfet person to play them. Kate Winslet as the diabolical Jeanine? Perfect. Maggie Q and Mekhi Phifer as Tori and Max, two older Dauntless members? Perfect. (And don’t forget Jai Courtney as the physical embodiment of Dauntless in general.) I really can’t think of anyone in this movie whose actor didn’t fit the character.

You don’t get satisfaction like that often.

Everyone's perfect.

Everyone’s perfect. [Summit Entertainment]

Fans of the Hunger Games and the books should be more than satisfied with the way Divergent has translated to screen. And people who thought the Hunger Games was maybe a bit too violent and glorified killing a bit too much will appreciate that as physical and assertive as the Dauntless may be this isn’t a movie where kids go around murdering kids. Though, there is some very emotional, violent moments so don’t think it’s not got some of that.

Along with probably Mockingjay and hopefully the Fault in Our Stars (another Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort movie!) Divergent is going to be one of the best young adult adaptations of the year. It may even be one of the best series adaptations in general. I walked out of the theatre thinking, “Damn, that was awesome.”

And I think you will too!

Final Thoughts: 
Divergent is a really great movie and the cast really shines in pretty much every part of it. The hype that has been built up for this movie has been justified because it really doesn’t disappoint. The cast is perfect, the story is unique and fast paced. There are always a lot of movie choices out there – especially this weekend – but Divergent should be at the top of your list and if it’s not you should make some revisions!

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