I wager that Divergent, based on the first book in a series written by Veronica Roth, plays a lot better to teenagers. Essentially, it’s set in a post-apocalyptic future and follows a teenager named Tris (Shailene Woodley), who is the Chosen One because she doesn’t fit into society’s norms. Because she is a Divergent. All adolescents take a test that tells them which of the five factions society has designated they’ll fit into, but Divergents’ test scores come back inconclusive. Everyone gets to just pick what faction they want anyway, making the test seem like a stupid thing, but I digress.
Tris — real name Beatrice — decides to go to Team Dauntless, because they’re the jocks of this universe, and if she went to team Erudite, the “nerds,” the teenage audience would grow bored. Here, she goes through a series of trials to prove herself, along with all the other people who picked that faction, before a third act battle in which she and a select group wind up rebelling after one of the factions is evil and wants to eliminate all the Divergents, and also the Abnegation faction, which is where Tris’ parents live.
Does this all seem like too much? Well, never fear. Divergent takes place over the course of 139 minutes, which is about 50 minutes longer than it should be. You get to soak in all of these details over the painfully dull middle act, all while small hints are dropped in regards to the Divergents being hunted, but that only really picks up near the end. Mostly, we’re training and watching Tris fall in love with one of her trainers, Four (Theo James), because it’s a young adult movie and she has to.
It’s all just a metaphor for high school, and not conforming, but set against a post-apocalyptic backdrop and providing significantly more action and death than most high school students face in their day-to-day lives. This is why it resonates better with teenagers than anyone older; it’s literally trying to make them feel like the main character is them, because they’re special and nobody understand them and authority is awful and all that stuff.
I mean, that’s fine, I guess, but haven’t we done this dance several times just in the past few years? Maybe the teens have gotten the message by now. Hopefully they’ll grow up to write better books that become better movies than Divergent. Or maybe they’ll make exactly the same types because that’s what resonated with them and made tons of money, so that’s obviously the only way to go about things in the future. Hey, maybe that’s what caused the war that caused the plot of Divergent to happen!
Right, the movie. It’s mostly boring, in large part because the second act is comprised primarily of random training sequences that are necessary because otherwise our lead can’t save the world, but have little consequence and aren’t in the least bit interesting or entertaining. And, since this is a series, we know they’re not going to be important in the long-haul. Once the plot really gets kicked into high-gear, we only have 20 minutes left, during which several significant things happen that we can’t dwell on because the film needs to end at some point, even if earlier on it felt as if it never would.
This isn’t the type of film that allows for good acting. Shailene Woodley has proven herself to be a rising star, but her role here doesn’t do her any favors. Ditto to almost anyone else involved. Theo James and Jai Courtney both show nothing, Zoë Kravitz, Miles Teller and Ansel Elgort get little to do in nothing roles, and veterans like Ashley Judd, Ray Stevenson, Maggie Q and Kate Winslet would be better off without this on their acting resume.
Divergent isn’t awful, but in terms of young adult movie adaptations, it’s not on the level of a Harry Potter or The Hunger Games. It’s on the other end of the scale — the one we don’t talk about and forget even exists, even though a sequel was confirmed before it was even released. It’d be better without its lengthy and uninteresting second act, and perhaps if it didn’t reiterate themes that recent young adult movies are all echoing.