Book adaptations on the big screen have been doing pretty well for themselves lately. While the quality isn't always there, they almost always seem to bring in a fairly large box office sum, as proven by titles such as The Hunger Games and Twilight. These books already have dedicated fan bases that are usually interested in seeing the film adaptation to see how it has been brought to the silver screen. However, it can get a little bit tricky, as it isn't an easy feat to turn an entire book into a concise and well-paced film. Director Neil Burger and writers Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor have been tasked to bring the first entry of the Divergent book series to the silver screen. Audiences have yet to see this film, yet it has already drawn a lot of comparisons to The Hunger Games. Has it captured a similar magic touch, or is it a lazy adaptation looking to draw teenagers in?
In a world divided by factions based on virtues, Tris (Shailene Woodley) must take the test that will tell her what faction of society she fits into. Even though the test determines where one belongs, the individuals are still able to choose which they'd like to go into. When she engages in the test, she discovers that her test results are inconclusive, which is incredibly rare. She finds out that she's a Divergent and won't fit in. The manipulative Jeanine (Kate Winslet) has a plan to kill all Divergents, causing Tris and the mysterious Four (Theo James) to find out what makes Divergents dangerous before it's too late.
Underneath all of the jazzy information about the factions, Divergent is truly a coming-of-age story for young Tris as she fights, not only to survive, but to discover who she is as a person and what her purpose is in society. These are concepts that are very real in our very own modern society, which will surely make it easy for young adults to connect with Tris, and inevitably root for her. One interesting aspect about the adventures of Tris is that she fails more than she succeeds. This allows for a more realistic depiction of this young woman. However, through her hard work and dedication, she's able to become a force to be reckoned with. It has been great to see so many powerful female lead characters lately, and Tris is no exception to this. She's an incredibly likable character that is quite easy to follow. However, Divergent doesn't truly succeed as a coming-of-age story, as it's far too formulaic. We're presented with the general structure that we've all come to know, and ultimately predict. This is perhaps why it won't connect quite enough for some audiences, but others will find that Tris is enough to pull them through it. Unlike many Hollywood flicks, our lead character actually changes as a person. It truly feels as if we're looking at a completely grown-up version of the young adult that we saw at the beginning of the running time.
However, Divergent definitely isn't only a coming-of-age story. Even though the film requires some setting up, it doesn't take very long for the action to kick into gear. Tris isn't at the level where she's able to fight many other people quite yet, as the majority of the running time is spent watching her go through training for her decided faction. The first level of training is the physical portion, intended to break you down and see how your strength can pull you through a situation. The second level is the mental portion, which is meant to drain you mentally and see how you're able to operate under the conditions of fear. While some may say that the training sequences run for a little bit too long, I thought that it was entirely necessary. Not only does it provide further character disposition on Tris and some of her teammates, but it's actually more entertaining than numerous full-blown action flicks. It never slows down enough to become dull. Since this is also about the progression of hard work, the training sessions never feel repetitive.
While not the fault of the film adaptation, my biggest gripe about Divergent is the third act. It feels as if we've rushed from the training that Tris just endured into a societal-wide battle that simply doesn't fit. Not only is it stereotypical for material such as this, but it doesn't feel that Tris would be able to excel against the military after only going through training. If this is truly the direction that the author wanted to go in, antagonist Jeanine should have been used more. Her dialogue and actions never left me feeling threatened or afraid of her. While I genuinely cared for Tris, other factors in her adventure don't always mesh with the remainder of the feature. However, it doesn't leave us with a horrible cliffhanger that will have audiences groaning. It ends on an appropriate note that still has me looking forward to the sequel.
One of the major drawing factors to Divergent will be the cast. Shailene Woodley is definitely one of the best young actresses to hit the scene in quite some time. This is her first action film, but she still delivers a wonderful performance as Tris. She's likable, relatable, and genuine. Even when the dialogue takes a dip, she maintains her powerful stance in this character. Theo James fits into the role of Four. He's attractive, yet he still comes across as being real. Unfortunately, Kate Winslet got the short end of the stick as Jeanine. When she gets the chance to be on screen, she does a great job. However, she's criminally underused here. Overall, the performances themselves are pretty solid.
As inspired as the acting is, the visuals primarily follow the mainstream style of filming something such as this. However, this doesn't hold true for the entire running time. The fighting sequences might be displayed through quick shots, but the same cannot be said about the mental portion of training. Director Neil Burger utilizes a lot of interesting transitions and color palettes that ultimately make this a pleasure to look at. For those hoping for some awesome fighting sequences will find the choreography to be fitting, but not necessarily memorable. However, Divergent is accompanied with an impressive soundtrack that fits the film incredibly well.
Even though it doesn't quite capture the magic found in The Hunger Games, this is still a pleasant surprise. I haven't read the book from which the film is based, but this is an adaptation that kept me engaged through its two and a half hour running time. Tris's coming-of-age story might be formulaic, but she is a character that I look forward to following in the sequels. She's a strong female protagonist that truly commands your attention, especially with the help of the incredibly talented Shailene Woodley. Divergent kept me entertained and genuinely wanting to see where the story goes next. Recommended.