Monday, March 31, 2014

Divergent Review

Divergent Review
I want to say that I never read Divergent or any book pertaining to Veronica Roth's post-apocalyptic story. I went into this as a movie and a movie alone. I did not carry any baggage. At this point, it seems useless to try to play the catch-up game. More films based on adult fiction books are being churned out at an alarming rate. That is typical Hollywood, once they get a whiff of success, they will sell that idea to death. Usually when that happens, it can be sticky. In 2000 and 2002, "X-Men" and "Spiderman" set the stage for the superhero genre. But then every superhero script under the sun got greenlit without much caution, and that led to bunch of bad superhero movies being made. The same can be said about the adult-fiction-book-turned-movie genre, most are hit and miss. I remained optimistic though, "Divergent" the movie has received good reviews so far, and there is a great cast, what could go wrong?

Maybe its just me, because most of these franchises based on adult fiction books have not worked for me. I love "The Hunger Games" and I loved "Harry Potter" and if you count "Chronicles of Narnia" and "Lord of the Rings" then I love those too. But "Twilight?" "The Seeker?" "Eragon?" "The Host?" Gag on all four. I don't dislike what they represent, I just don't like poor story structure, bad acting, silly cliches, emotionless weight, and crummy decision-making. I honestly feel like "Divergent" makes several poor choices throughout its running time, and I am curious if it worked out better in book form. 

I guess I should discuss the plot a bit. "Divergent" takes place in a post-apocalyptic future after a big war ravaged the world. What was the fighting all about and who was involved? I couldn't tell you, I suppose I was to have read the book before viewing the film. In the aftermath of this war, society broke down into five factions. Those factions are Abnegation (for the selfless), Amity (for the peaceful), Candor (for the truthful), Erudite (for the intelligent), and Dauntless (for the brave). Why society decided to break into factions is never really realized, for plot convenience, I'm sure. Beatrice (Shailene Woodley) is of Abnegation faction, but on her 16th birthday she gets to choose a faction for herself, a sort of coming-of-age type thing. She has to take a test which will guide her decision at The Choosing, but instead of arriving at one decision, the test offers three separate decisions, which means Beatrice is Divergent. What does it mean to be Divergent and why is it so bad? We never really find out, all we know is Beatrice is in trouble because they needed to make this story tense somehow.  There is also a plot about how the Erudite faction is displeased at the Abnegation faction, because Abnegation governs the other factions, and Erudite feels they should govern them. Why? I guess the story needed a bad guy.

I am not trying to be coy or offensive, the film offers no insight on motivations or decisions of its characters. It seems director Neil Burger decided to make a movie exclusively for fans of the book and nobody else, which leads to an incredibly monotonous experience. Watching "Divergent," I was reminded of David Lynch's adaptation of "Dune" back in the 1980's, and how people were given glossary cards at each theater to help them understand the story being told onscreen. I wish I had received a glossary card for "Divergent." I don't see how this movie could win over any new fans who are not initiated with the books. I don't buy anything about the factions, I don't buy why they matter, I don't buy why Divergent's are so terrible or really why they hold any significance at all. I hope everything was better told and explored in the book, because everything in this film is poorly-written, poorly-explored, and poorly-created. In fact, its just plain too wordy, someone could easily make a drinking game based on how many times the word "faction" is used.

It also doesn't help that, despite a great cast, the acting is painfully deficient. I had hopes for Shailene Woodley after viewing last year's "The Spectacular Now," but she decided to become a blank in this movie, I get no emotion off of her, which means her story doesn't matter. Theo James plays Four, a Dauntless member who becomes Beatrice's love-interest is equally robotic onscreen. Great actors like Miles Teller, Maggie Q, Ray Stevenson, Jai Courtney, Zoe Kravitz and Mekhi Phifer are not given any real thematic meat to play, and their talents are horribly wasted. The real trainwreck is Kate Winslet, whose villain role is laughably bad. Have you ever wondered what it would be like for Martha Stewart to play a villain? Now's your chance.

Look, I don't care if a book is dense and full of depth. That doesn't mean you get to write a movie with tons of holes, lots of questions and half-answered deliveries and hope everybody will play along. Oh wait, this is will be a series of movies? So we get another one in a few years? Still, not acceptable. You have to convince me to come back for a second outing, draw me in with a great story and raw emotion which will send me reeling out of theater, rabid for the sequel. "Divergent" doesn't even come close to that. The reason why I love "The Hunger Games," "Lord of the Rings," "Harry Potter" and "Chronicles of Narnia" films is because they are willfully explored stories, brought to life by terrific ensembles and pack an emotional punch that decks me in the heart every single time I watch them. "Divergent" doesn't do any of that, it is lazy in its storytelling and terrible in its directing. This film receiving a fresh rating on is absolutely scary.


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