Directed by: Neil Burger
Produced by: Douglas Wick, Lucy Fisher & Pouya Shabazian
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Ashley Judd, Jai Courtney, Ray Stevenson, Zoe Kravitz & Kate Winslett
Budget: $85 million
Box office: $288.7 million
Release date: March 21, 2014
In the last few years there have been so many films based on Young Adult Novels that the YA Adaptation is practically a genre of its own. Depending on your perspective you have the Harry Potter franchise to either thank or curse for this. Just the first film alone probably made enough money to solve all of Greece’s financial issues and maybe even get the Milky Bars in afterwards. Along with render the fact that Daniel Radcliffe is really not a great actor completely irrelevant.
Like piss-heads to buildings with ‘kebab’, ‘tandoori’ or just plain ‘chicken’ written on the front of them a slew of studios and directors flocked to the libraries to dig out the next YA novel to get rich off. The large scale results have ranged from Twilight; downright awful, The Hunger Games; downright spectacular and Maze Runner; downright reasonable.
However, in March 2011 Veronica Roth signed off the rights to her Divergent book series for a hefty fee and in 2014 Divergent was added to the stockpile of YA Adaptations and despite financial success it got a bit of a pasting critically. Divergent currently holds 40% on Rotten Tomatoes citing predictable YA clichés as the main problem. Now don’t get me wrong such a criticism is actually quite valid as it does sport a number of the YA troupes; a dystopian future setting, lead protagonists who are around 16-18 years old (but are portrayed by actors in their early to mid-twenties) and an emphasis on individuality and raging against an oppressive machine. Yet despite all of this and for a number of other reasons I actually enjoyed it.
The success or failure of any franchise rests on the strength of its lead actors and in this area Divergent really shines. Shailene Woodley as female protagonist Tris Prior is honest-to-God superb. Her journey from a timid teenager to a confident, kick-ass system threatening heroine is as believable as any and no doubt when Woodley lands her inevitable ‘This-is-tailor-made-for-winning-Oscars’ role she will be just as relevant as Jennifer Lawrence, if not more so. Taking the helm as lead protagonist is Theo James, yes the ass-hole from The Inbetweeners Movie, as Four Eaton who also hands in a strong performance and holds the distinction of being one of very few lead YA Adaptation protagonists that you genuinely believe could f*ck you up! The supporting cast members don’t quite reach the same heights but are at-worst decent and Tris’ best friend is played by Zoe Kravitz; yes she is Lenny’s daughter and yes she is hot, so very hot. Kate Winslet doesn’t quite phone it in but she does spend a few of her scenes carrying the sort of facial expression that makes it look like she’s just swallowed a hot chip and was clearly cast to add clout to the line-up.
The mythology and background of the films settings are intriguing and easily as well realised and fleshed out as anything in The Hunger Games, if a little less well developed and built upon. The idea of faction systems and post-apocalyptic cityscapes that persecute uniqueness is hardly original but it’s pulled off very well here. The factions are well thought out and all of their roles make sense meaning that the infrastructure is believable and watching everything unfold is very satisfying. The previously mentioned cliché of encouraging individuality rears its head and is only slightly more subtle than a fish to the face from a speeding car but again, it’s well executed and doesn’t feel tacked-on or out of place so seeing it unfold is actually quite pleasant in a guilty-pleasure kind of way.
All in all, Divergent shall not be taking home any awards for originality. Many of its themes have been explored many times before and in all honesty have been done a little better. This shouldn’t be said to discredit it too much though as Divergent is still a very solid introduction to a very solid franchise and although it may be familiar it does what it does well, occasionally very well and unlike many of the other YA Adaptations on the market it was clearly made with effort.
The young cast is enthusiastic and convincing, without having the luxury of being surrounded by more established and experienced actors to back them up *cough* Radcliffe, the action is well directed and fast paced and even the unoriginal aspects of the film are done well. Divergent is definitely worth checking out with an open and realistic mind-set, as is its equally competent sequel released earlier this year and I look forward to the final two-parts based off the last book. On a side-note; I do wish they would stop dividing the last books into 2 films, just another YA cliché I guess…