Divergent -- Movie Review
I have a lot of feelings about this movie. A LOT. It's a very different experience seeing a movie when you've read the book. And it's a very different seeing a movie when you've been following its development from day one when it was just the possibility of a movie. Then seeing all the castings, seeing the teaser stills and the variety of trailers. That's one of my favorite things about book-to-movie adaptations. I like to stay connected with the whole process of the thing.
I really enjoyed this movie. It stays true to the mood of the book, to the themes, to the plot points. Moreover, it is a really great movie even separate from the book.
This is going to be a mostly positive review because I thoroughly enjoyed the majority of this movie. But I want to get my critiques out of the way first, because great as it was, it was by no means perfect (I know, I know. We were spoiled with the brilliance that is the Catching Fire movie.)
Things I Disliked:
This is a bit of a gray-ish area of critique because I understand why they did it...mostly. Every action movie needs a villain, a villain that can become a motif for everything that the hero is facing. In a book you can simply say the name, explain why that person is a force to be cautious of, and then move on. But a movie is a story presented entirely visually, so it's necessary for the main antagonist to appear in scenes and make a visual and imposing image. I get that.
But I think they spilled Jeanine's secrets too early. The audience was never led into wondering about her plans. She straight up said them to Tris. For that reason I never felt as scared of her as I wanted to be, as scared of her as I was in the books. The ending was also a bit weird, although since it has no baring on the plot of the series, I'm fine with it. I just think it weakened the resolution of this movie.
-Fear Landscape Serum
This change was much subtler, but gave me more issues. Okay, hear me out. So, in the book the whole point of the fear landscape simulations is to get the initiates adjusted to fear, right? And the way out of each fear in the landscape is to act the opposite of how the fear is trying to get you to act (i.e. remain calm, say no, jump when you should be clinging to the edge). But in the movie they took on the idea that you have to escape the fear rather than overcome it in your simulation. You have to think your way out of it (i.e. fixing the walls of the enclosed box, getting off the ledge, hitting the birds with fire). This is a much more Erudite way of looking at these challenges. Dauntless is training these initiates to be soldiers, to take fear and work inside of it, to not let it control you. But in the movie simulations they are always getting themselves away from the particular fear rather than embracing and then toppling it.
-Awkward Romantic Tension
It wasn't that bad. It wasn't nearly as bad as I was expecting from the trailer, it was just sort of there sometimes. But, I appreciated how the romance aspect wasn't this HUGE part of the plot of the movie just like it isn't a HUGE part of the plot of the book. It was definite periphery plot, for which I want to give them a giant pat on the back.
Aaaand, that's where my problems with the movie end. Great, right? This movie was made of about 90% pure awesome.
Things I Loved:
One of the most important things to me when a book is being adapted is that the characters retain their motive and their agency. This movie stayed so true to those things. Really that's all I ask of the movies character-wise and this movie delivered. Definitely delivered. A+ on delivery. Seriously. I felt these characters like I felt them in the book. They were familiar to me, just in a different medium.
Tris: I'm not going to lie, Shailene's Tris never became "My-Tris" while I was watching this movie, not in the way that Jennifer Lawrence became "My-Katniss". But I think she did a dang good job regardless. You could see the patented Tris-edge come out time and time again. I loved seeing her coming into her own in Dauntless just like I did in the book. I love how they showcased how Tris subverted expectations with her cruelty despite being a stiff and a girl. That's a vital part of Tris in the first book, how cruel she can be, purposefully cruel. Cruel because she has to be, because it's the only way to keep herself alive. Movie-Tris moved through this story just like I wanted her to.
Four: Again, I'm not going to lie and say that Theo James became Four for me. But, he did a good job, too. He captured the rougher side of Four and he captured the military side. Both of which are huge aspects of the character.
Caleb: I really liked this portrayal of Caleb, more than I expected to. He's confused and scared, he sinks into cowardice so often. I think they showed the beginnings of that. I can't wait to see where he goes in the next two movies. I think Ansel Elgort will do a great job with this character.
Will: IT HURTS. I loved Will in the book, he was one of my favorite characters. And I think they did a fantastic job casting him. His dialogue was excellent. Erudite through and through. The shooting scene was just as soul crushing as it deserved to be, as it needed to be.
Christina: Wonderful casting is wonderful. Really, she did such a great job with Christina. Just the right amounts of sass and brashness. Seriously, I loved her in this movie.
Peter: Ohhh. Fantastic. Fantastic! I really loved this version of Peter. He made me feel his skeeviness perfectly. Rude and gross, Peter was absolutely correctly portrayed. I can't wait to see him play the more serious, openly cowardly version of Peter from the rest of the books.
Eric: I wasn't sure how I was going to feel about this Eric, but he really impressed me. I felt what I felt whenever Eric talked in the book. I was disgusted and angry at him and I just really wanted to punch him in the face. Congrats! That means Eric was 100% perfectly characterized.
Al: Another character where they got the emotion just right. Al really portrayed the pitiful, scared, and ultimately self-destructive Al that we see in the book. It made me hurt for him and for Tris, just like I did when reading it.
Like I said with a lot of the characters, this movie evoked a lot of the same feelings that I had while reading this story. I got exhilarated and nervous and angry when I was supposed to. They used mood to push the plot along and it worked really well for the transitions.
-The Sets and Costumes
This was always important as the landscape and the faction clothing are so fundamental to the building of this world. And they did it SO well. I loved at the Choosing Ceremony when each faction was sitting together. They made sure that it looked unified, but not uniform. Even when the factions were mixing it felt like they were connected to each other.
Dauntless and Erudite and Abnegation headquarters were all so beautiful. The entire Dauntless compound was so great, from the pit to the cafeteria to the training center. It felt rugged and fierce just like Dauntless homes should.
-Cinematography and Music
A ton of the shots were absolutely gorgeous. I loved the wide shots of the city, it felt torn down but it still managed to be beautiful. I adored the zipline sequence, particularly when she went through the segment of that old building. It felt like you were on the zipline with her and it was just as exhilarating as the scene needed to be. I also really enjoyed the scenery during the Fear Landscape and the test.
The Ellie Goulding music. THE ELLIE GOULDING MUSIC. Perfect tone. Absolutely perfect. Purely perfect. Beautifully perfect. The music was never, for one second, force into a scene. It flowed through the movie (you guessed it) PERFECTLY.
-The Fight Scenes and Training Montages
Good fighting scenes were always going to be an imperative for this movie and they pulled them off big time. They were all freaking awesome and made you flinch and gasp in the best of ways. I mean, the knife through Jeanine's hand was freaking awesome. And the end fight scene was pretty spectacular overall.
-The Dauntless Feel
So raucous and exciting and grungy, just like Dauntless felt in the book. And I loved the teasing about factions and stiffs and candor. They captured the Dauntless edge perfectly, just like it was showcased in the first book. I loved all the group shots of the Dauntless, they looked perfectly self-assured and courageous. One of my favorite parts of the book was seeing Dauntless in all of its wild and uncovered glory and I think they did those parts of the book justice.
-They Quoted the Most Important Lines Directly
"Fear doesn't shut you down..."
"You chose us, now we get to choose you."
^^ Those are just a couple examples as there were definitely more occasions of this. I think they chose the best lines to put in. They managed to make them not sound awkward in the context of the scene and they never felt forced either. I get a really cool feeling whenever movies quote books directly, I can't help it. I love it.
-Tris' Culture Shock
A minor detail, but important to Tris' overall development as a character. I loved watching Tris adjust to life in Dauntless. It was great seeing all that changed between her by the end.
-The Clear Understanding of the Factions
"We train soldiers not rebels."
They showed through dialogue that the writers of the script took the time to ponder why each faction would act and speak a certain way. They gave the factions a spark of life. The themes of this book play heavily into the nature of humans and their virtues. Particularly individual and cultural virtues. So for the movie to be an open discussion on these things is spectacular.
-Capture the Freaking Flag
SO AWESOME. I loved the addition of the simulation-guns. It gave it a more urgent feel that the scene probably needed to make it work in a movie format. Plus the team camaraderie and the Ferris Wheel. Everything. I loved everything about this scene.
-Showing Subplots Realistically and Subtly
They didn't shout "this is important!" about every little thing. They trusted their audience rather than patronizing them, which makes for a really great movie. I love how they subtly worked in the friendship between the initiates and the unrest in the factions early on. They're even laying a bit of groundwork for Allegiant with Jeanine's repeated statements about human nature. This means that they're being consciously series-minded of which I approve.
Honestly, this movie was so great. I highly recommend you go see it (or read it, if you haven't).