Based on the New York Times bestselling novel by Veronica Roth, “Divergent” is all too reminiscent of the “The Hunger Games” series, with the plot line following a similar, enclosed dystopian society separated into different sections. However, unlike the “Hunger Games,” “Divergent” fails to create any emotional connection or compelling plot line, turning into a mere romance and action-adventure film enjoyable only to teenagers who are just looking for some special effects and, of course, the ceremonial “male lead pulling off his shirt” ritual.
“Divergent” is set in Chicago, where an unexplained war has caused citizens to withdraw into their city and protect themselves with enormous fences against an unidentified threat. The society is split into five factions based on personality traits: Abnegation for the selfless, Erudite for the intelligent, Candor for the honest, Amity for the kind and Dauntless for the brave. Beatrice “Tris” Prior (Shailene Woodley), born in Abnegation, goes through an aptitude test which is supposed to determine her faction; however, she learns she is divergent, a “threat” to society that cannot be categorized into one personality trait, and must keep that secret hidden as she lives as a Dauntless, where she meets fellow divergent and love interest Tobias “Four” Eaton (Theo James).
Woodley fits the job as a young, uncertain and yet excited girl who struggles through the rigorous training required to be a Dauntless warrior. However, as the plot progresses, it is evident Woodley’s acting skills take a drop in the more emotional moments, turning what should have been heart-wrenching scenes into awkward spurts of forced tears that are quickly forgotten.
The movie also does a shabby job overall in the romantic development between Tris and Four. While their chemistry is undeniable, the sudden makeout scene, although expected, seems misplaced as they rapidly jump from exposition to climax on the love plot line.
It is not just the romantic part of the movie that seems to take a sudden leap; the whole film feels choppy and rushed. Although the difficulty of making an entire book into a 2-hour movie usually serves as a good excuse for the fast pace of many films, after the success in converting the book “Catching Fire” to the movie, that reasoning seems invalid. Despite skipping many important plot points, “Divergent” still feels like a very long movie. It seems important and essential story elements were sacrificed in favor of portions that would make fast-paced scenes that would look cool in a movie.
The more important parts of the book, such as the development of one of the antagonists, Peter Hayes (Miles Teller), are instead replaced by insignificant but visually appealing scenes; for example, a scene in which Tris traverses a zipline that extends all across the city is by no means necessary. While this does not make for a good movie, plot-wise, some may feel that the special effects, heavily utilized during the aptitude testing scenes, are the highlights of the movie and balance out the other negative aspects. Even though the special effects are indeed extremely attention-grabbing, especially judging by the excited gasps from the audience, popular opinion would most likely say that James’ depiction of the attractive Four is truly the highlight of the movie.
Although the movie lacks moving or heart-wrenching scenes, as well as a solid, well-developed plot line, which admittedly is not apparent in the book either, “Divergent” is undeniably a satisfying action movie for those still in the adolescent stages of their lives, who can relate to Tris’s struggle in finding her identity in the midst of societal pressures.