I saw Divergent last weekend, so I thought I’d write up my thoughts on the film. (A plot summary can be found in my review of the book, if you need it.) The movie did have its issues – doesn’t every adaptation have some? – but it was also much better than I hoped.
I’m going to review in list format, since my thoughts are all disorganized and I felt like I was jumping around from point to point with no transitions.
The acting was good.
“That’s not an enthusiastic endorsement, Engie!” you cry. Yeah. I know. But it’s honest. The acting was good. I didn’t feel like the wrong person had been cast in any of the major roles. No character was portrayed in a manner that felt just flat out wrong, unlike their personality in the original book.
But at the same time, I didn’t feel like any of the performances were truly amazing. Everyone hit their marks, but no one went above and beyond. For example, Shailene Woodley, who plays Tris, acted decently but not particularly memorably.
The acting might have been better if the characters were better-written.
I was disappointed by this until I realized that maybe the problem lies not with the actors (or their directors, or the scriptwriters who gave them lines) but with the characters. I love Divergent for its metaphors, for its ideas about good and bad. Its ideas about virtues. I don’t love it for its characters.
Perhaps the writing gets better later on – I haven’t read Insurgent and Allegiant yet – but right now, I think all the characters are a bit bland. Maybe the issue isn’t Woodley. Maybe the issue is what she was given to work with. It reminds me of all the Kristen Stewart hate – people think she can’t act, but in reality she played dull Bella Swan perfectly.
I could not tell Will and Al apart.
Eventually it didn’t matter because Al died – well, so did Will, albeit later – but it drove me batty at first. Maybe it’s just me, but it was so distracting. (Tell me – is it just me? Here’s Al and here’s Will.)
I don’t think all the events occurred in their correct order.
Or happened exactly as they did in the book. This may be because while I like Divergent, I don’t like it that much, and I didn’t remember everything even though I read it only a month ago. But what happened to Visiting Day? And wasn’t Christina supposed to take the flag from Tris during capture-the-flag? (Isn’t that why Tris was mad at her? Because she stole her victory?) And I’m pretty sure the zip-lining didn’t take place immediately after capture-the-flag.
And yet, I don’t think all this reordering of and, ahem – excuse the pun! – divergence from the plot made much difference. Unless you’re a diehard fan of the book, I don’t know that it mattered. It didn’t change the moral of the story, for example.
The only thing I really disliked about Divergent‘s adaptation was the romance between Tris and Four.
It was creepy in the book and creepier onscreen. For instance, during the final simulation test, Four is rather violent and their issue seems to be “he wants to sleep with her and she doesn’t want to.” In the book it was more like “she wants to sleep with him too but she’s a bit scared and therefore not totally ready.” This nuance was lost in the film. Go away, creepy Four.
My favorite place was probably the building that looked as a bomb had blasted horizontally through it – very post-apocalyptic! I also liked the ruins of Navy Pier and the design of the wall around the city. Chicago may not be my favorite city – San Francisco has that honor, closely followed by NYC and Washington, D.C. – but it is at least passably familiar to me and it was fun to pick out the ruins of landmarks I knew.
I loved the score.
As usual, I paid attention to the film’s score. I mistakenly thought it was composed by Hans Zimmer, but apparently it’s written by some guy called Junkie XL with help from Hans Zimmer. Well, to me it all sounded like Zimmer anyway – a lot of the same quiet but relentless tempos – so yay for that!
I haven’t had time to listen to the score in full, but so far my favorite tracks are probably “Tris” and “Choosing Dauntless.” Gah, the Dauntless get perfect music. They get perfect everything. Their moments often made up for the other little missteps.
I was a little thrown by the soundtrack songs featured in the film, though.
For instance, The Hunger Games has a score composed by the fantastic James Newton Howard and a soundtrack with pieces from pop artists like Taylor Swift, but the soundtrack isn’t heard until the credits (and even then only in part). Divergent‘s director evidently decided it needed both. This was a little weird for a girl who thinks only contemporary stories should have pop songs – fantasy and science fiction films shouldn’t, because they don’t take place in worlds exactly the same as our own.
Still, Ellie Goulding’s credits song was perfect.
It’s called “Beating Heart” and you can listen to it here.
It actually started playing while the story was still being told, and that worked perfectly. It was very symbolic.
And I didn’t realize this until later, but the opening lyrics were removed from the film! Yes, that required an exclamation point! Because I don’t like the lyrics! Just look: “Eyes make their peace in difficulties with wounded lips and salted cheeks,/And finally we step to leave to the departure lounge of disbelief.”
Ellie, are you OK? What was that even supposed to mean?
So yeah, I like when it opens with, “And I don’t know where I’m going but I know it’s gonna be a long time.”
The film was more exciting than the book.
The book, for all its high-stakes oh-my-god-we’re-so-daring let’s-have-dramatic-and-scary-scenes, was a bit slow. I predicted the vertigo-inducing, adrenaline-filled sections would be even better in film format, and they were. I may have freaked out during the scene with Four’s fears, specifically the part about heights.
But I’m still disappointed that we didn’t get to see how Tris got down from the Ferris Wheel! That would’ve been more terrifying than climbing up there, because on the way up you don’t have to look down.
It wasn’t Tris finally ranking well in training.
It wasn’t the simulation scenes.
It wasn’t Tori being all mysterious.
It wasn’t even Jeanine, although wow. She is seriously gorgeous. (Just look above!) I do partially take back what I said about everyone being cast well because I don’t think she was supposed to look nice at all.
Nope. It wasn’t any of those things. It was the nod to the factions’ symbols, a series of clever little shots seen early on when Tris explains her world. You see Amity’s tree, Abnegation’s clasped hands, Candor’s scales, Dauntless’ flames, and Erudite’s eye – not merely as pictures carved into a wall or emblazoned on flags, but just as objects in scenes.
Divergent is a faithful adaptation as well as a good movie in its own right.
Yes, the film has some issues – but honestly, the book has some issues. My point about the actors doing the best with what they were given goes for the entire movie. The book had some issues with pacing, character development, et cetera. Sometimes the film improved upon the book. Sometimes it left the scenes as is, not worse than in the book (except during the weird Tris/Four scene I mentioned above) but not any better either. So yeah, the filmmakers actually did a stellar job in terms of authenticity – even if it did hurt the movie at times.
I wouldn’t call Divergent the best movie I’ve ever seen, or even the best science fiction film, but did I enjoy it? Definitely. It’s a better adaptation than it is a movie. If you’re looking for a cool, thought-provoking movie, I think you would enjoy Divergent – whether or not you’ve read the book.