A mostly successful adaptation of a mostly successful novel, Divergent is an above average action adventure that entertains even if it doesn’t resonate.
Director Neil Burger and writers Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor make several changes to author Veronica Roth’s story, the most notable, and the best, being their resolution. The film’s finale is gripping and exciting, rife with intense conflict centered on opposed characters with differing priorities.
Burger, Daugherty and Taylor are also wise to minimize Al (Christian Madsen), Will (Ben Lloyd-Hughes), and Christina’s (Zoe Kravitz) importance while all but eliminating Edward (Ben Lamb), Molly (Amy Newbold) and Drew, amongst others. By reducing the number of secondary characters, the filmmakers are able to better develop the most crucial.
Something they mostly do. Here Tris (Shailene Woodley) is complex, equal parts brave, intelligent and ruthless. Four (Theo James) is harsh and exacting, but also layered by loneliness and frustration disguised as fearlessness. Jeanine (Kate Winslet) is zealous and arrogant, but she is equally empathetic, soft-spoken and intelligent.
Not all of the film’s characters are treated so well, however. Dauntless leaders, especially Eric (Jai Courtney), are so focused on mindless obedience that they quickly become archetypes we do not understand.
Peter, Tori and Caleb are under-developed. We do not understand Caleb’s choice of Erudite or Tori’s decision to finally answer Tris’ questions.
Just as we do not see Four and Tris’ romance develop. Until the final act when the latter professes love, their relationship isn’t a flaw, because the filmmakers do not suggest strong connection between them. Then the movie ends, and their depth of feeling is supposedly intense. Nevermind that we haven’t seen it develop.
This flaw limits the movie’s thematic resonance. Why? Woodley’s final voiceover suggests a theme of togetherness and community, but the message rings hollow. Simply put, the central relationships are undercooked.
Despite the actors best efforts. Woodley and James share intense chemistry together and vitalize their characters individually. Woodley is paticularly dynamic.
As is Miles Teller, who plays against type and makes Peter seem better written than he is.
The filmmakers do not over-explain the world or Tris’ thoughts, opting instead to show us relevant information.
Good thing they mostly show it well. Consider Chicago’s decaying skyline, a once-sunken ship rotting above land, characters repeatedly questioning what is beyond Amity’s farms, Jeanine frequently entering the Dauntless compound, Tris’ lingering looks at her parents during the choosing ceremony, and so much more.
Perhaps most importantly, many of Divergent’s scenes are gripping and suspenseful.
Though imperfect, Divergent is good enough to warrant a tepid recommendation.