Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.

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Divergent

Film #432

THE PLOT

In a world divided by factions based on virtues, Tris learns she’s Divergent and won’t fit in. When she discovers a plot to destroy Divergents, Tris and the mysterious Four must find out what makes Divergents dangerous before it’s too late.

Year 2, Film #67

THE REVIEW: The basic premise of Divergent, and this is extremely simplified, is to take The Hunger Games and set it in a near-future Chicago where instead of Districts, there are factions, and unrest begins to build as a small handful of rebellious citizens fight the impending anarchy that is brought down upon their society. Grossly oversimplified but I do this for two reasons: (1) to provide a frame a reference for those newcomers who might not have read the book or are familiar with the setting; and (2) to set the stage for how well executed the story is down to every last detail. I was lucky enough to catch an early screening of Divergent last week that came with the disclaimer that we were one of the first audiences to see the film and that it was in an unfinished state (some temp audio and some visual effects still not completed). Despite this state of the film, I came away knowing I’ll be seeing Divergent again, along with its two sequels Insurgent and Allegiant when they come out.

Many, times, before, I’ve explained why I enjoy incredibly detailed fantasy and science fiction stories so much. When done well, like Divergent is, you really are transported to another world and are swept away by what takes place, even when it’s just a futuristic version of Earth. Divergent takes place in Chicago but everything about the setting — near future, dystopian society — is different, but highly detailed giving the impression of reality. Everything down to how the government functions, what people wear, what people do, transportation, technology… everything. There’s even a history of how things became the way they are and a reasoning behind how the five faction system came about. Albeit, both the history and reasoning aren’t fully fleshed out in Divergent, but there’s a strong sense that we will find out why things are as we discover more of the story. The details weren’t left out because they don’t exist; the backstory is in place but we just need time to learn more about it (at least that’s what I got out of the film because as we all know, there’s no way I read the book beforehand).

It’s not just the small details that make Divergent so entertaining, it’s also how those details come together to form the bigger picture. And it is here, at the large story arcs, where the film appears very similar to The Hunger Games. Our main protagonist, Beatrice “Tris” Prior (Shailene Woodley) takes her aptitude test and fails to be classified as one faction. Rather, her mind doesn’t conform to one group but is independent, or Divergent, and therefore hard to control. Erudite (the knowledgeable), led by Jeanine Matthew (Kate Winslet) are unhappy with the current ruling faction, Abnegation (the selfless), and plot to overthrow them and rid Chicago of all Divergents who threaten their system. It’s then up to Tris and other Divergents to fight against Erudite and preserve the peace. A very simple story, like The Hunger Games, of a tyrannical ruling class looking to quench the independent and rebellious people all in the name of preserving a peace that was so hard to obtain after certain unknown destruction caused Chicago to wall itself off from the rest of the world. But instead of having a set of games where kids kill each other, Divergent features mind simulations where people meet their worst fears, and more well-rounded groups (factions) that each have their own initiation rituals where new recruits are forced to go through a pledging process of sorts in order to join. “Faction before blood.”

Young adult novel-to-film adaptations may be quite commonplace nowadays and one could make the argument of how this is just another sign of Hollywood’s decreasing originality and reliance and big blockbusters to draw crowds. It’s true that Divergent is just another money-milking franchise that will gross billions off the series and it isn’t all too original per se. Divergent does have some bad moments in it. Some of the dialogue and character interactions are unnecessarily bad that it evokes laughter from the audience (some of this unintentional humor works, some doesn’t) and the film also heavily relies on the fact that there will be more films to come. If anything, my biggest complaint about Divergent is that it’s too much of a tease; let the ending finish one part of the story instead of act like the beginning of a new film. But I’ve always been an advocate for entertaining films and Divergent delivers just that. It may be yet another adaptation that will spawn sequel after sequel and appeal to it’s coveted teenage audience with lots of action and visual effects. But it’s fun. It creates a world of its own with a government and societal interactions that are futuristic, yet not farfetched, and detailed enough to convince you they’re real. I’m looking forward to the Divergent series and will be seeing them all when they hit theaters.

Divergent opens in theaters on Friday March 21, 2014.

THE RATING: 4 out of 5