Here it is, a Sunday evening, and I am SO thankful another new film was viewed this now-fading weekend to make up for the travesty of the one I viewed and Reviewed yesterday. The Young Adult fantasy book series adaptions are coming out very consistently over the last several years, especially trying to match the monster success of the “Twilight” franchise. Sadly, only “The Hunger Games” films (and to a lesser degree the “Percy Jackson” movies) have had that level of status and acclaim among the audience they aim for (as well as among young-at-heart adults like myself, let’s not forget!). I have always found it a somewhat profound mystery why others have not at least managed a DECENT run worldwide, including but not limited to “I Am Number Four“, “Beautiful Creatures“, “The Host“, and “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones“, when they also were multi-million selling book series too. So, we FINALLY may have gotten to a new (and it seems almost ASSURED) franchise via the first book film adaption of Veronica Roth’s “Divergent”.
The story is set in futuristic, and in-ruins, Chicago, where after an apparent war, the society has formed into a class system, with five distinct factions, that are intended to be where citizens are ultimately fit into the one that most applies to their particular skill sets and/or personalities. They are: AMITY-those who are peaceful, they are responsible for food production and are the only class that ventures consistently outside the massive gate that surrounds the city, CANDOR-those who are honest, they do not lie, with nothing to hide, speaking the truth even when others may not want to hear it, DAUNTLESS-the brave, they are the warrior class, designated to protect the city as an army of sorts, and only few who choose them make the cut, ERUDITE-those who are especially intelligent and knowledgeable, the value logic and reason, often providing technology to the other factions, and develop many of the serums used for various tests, and finally ABNEGATION-those who are selfless, seeing their own needs as irrelevant, serving others, and not even glancing in mirrors other than for haircuts, as to do otherwise is considered vanity, and also why Abnegation members are a part of the governing body. All of these factions are put together to keep the city and its citizenry harmonious and under control. Then there are also the Factionless, the outcasts, the ones who did not fit into their faction or chose to leave it and are basically seen as worthless, the dregs of the society, paid attention to only by Abnegation members. At 16 years of age, all the children are part of a Choosing ceremony where each makes the choice that will show which faction they will be, and therefore WHO they will be, for the remainder of their lives.
Directed by Neil Burger (“Limitless“, “The Illusionist“) we are therefore introduced to Beatrice Prior (the wonderful Shailene Woodley), who we seem to think already has a somewhat tilted view of the societal structure, in that she wants to make her own decisions and not feel like something, or someone, is telling her HOW to be and WHO she is. All her family is a part of Abnegation, and this includes her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort), her mother Natalie (Ashley Judd), and her father Andrew (Tony Goldwyn) who is also a member of the governing counsel. There has been some type of tension involving one of the Abnegation counsel members, Marcus (Ray Stevenson), and this is already causing the faction to be under scrutiny. The day comes for the aptitude test that will designate what faction each teen is most likely to choose. Beatrice enters this with caution, while her brother Caleb seems confident and not worried at all. The test administrator Beatrice ends up with, Tori (Maggie Q), puts her though the test…only to have Beatrice get told her results are “inconclusive”, that there is no ONE faction it seems she is specific to…and hence it is known as divergence, which Tori indicates is a dangerous thing to be, as it presents a danger to the structure of the society. Advising Beatrice to lie about the results, and hence having to lie to her family as well, the day of Choosing arrives, we get an initial encounter with whom appears to be the head of the whole city, Jeanine Matthews (the always solid Kate Winslet), and with Caleb already choosing outside of his faction to the apparent disappointment of his parents, Beatrice makes an even MORE out there choice and is whisked away from the ceremony as an “initiate” of Dauntless.
Quickly finding out the physical and mental rigors that will accompany her choice, Beatrice still finds a way to stick out in the crowd, even if unintentionally, as she takes on the first challenge of being a part of Dauntless. Through this, she has come to meet and befriend several fellow initiates: Christina (Zoe Kravitz), Al (Christian Madsen), Will (Ben Lloyd-Hughes), and to a much lesser degree, a total scoundrel Peter (Miles Teller). At the Dauntless facility, and at the behest of her new instructor Four (Theo James), she shortens her name to Tris, and begins Phase 1 of the training under the eye of another of Dauntless’ leaders, the harsh task master Eric (Jai Courtney), who soon demonstrates exactly how unforgiving he can be, also advising the initiates that only a handful of them will actually BE chosen to become members, while the others will become Factionless. This is also re-emphasized by the MAIN leader of Dauntless, Max (Mekhi Phifer). A series of tests and competitions ensue, and as these go on, Tris starts to experience more of what her divergent attributes can bring to her chances to remain into the second Phase, yet trying NOT to draw THAT much attention to it either, as to be discovered would mean death, since we now learn Divergents are hunted down and executed. Drawing strength from her friends and having to endure multiple situations that cause her pain, physically and mentally, Tris stands firm and as time goes on, starts to draw the eye of Four beyond the instructor level. We can see he admires her abilities, but it is not until she goes through “fear tests” that he starts being suspicious that there’s more to her than she’s letting on. But as the story unfolds, and even as they grow closer, events occur that threaten Tris’ part in Dauntless, and a visit to her brother Caleb begins to shine a light on an even greater danger to the peace their society has known. And the bigger shock is that it may be something perpetrated by a certain faction who is mastering a way to control another one in a bid to create serious unrest. Tris and Four ultimately become the catalyst to expose the truth, but at what cost will these multiple revelations come? Sorry folks, the NO SPOILERS rule now goes into effect. Curiosity is up? Go see the film! 🙂
I had read the book in two days when on vacation earlier this year, as I got THAT drawn into the story, its characters, and the pace of the events. I obviously went into the film knowing that there would be a LOT of details missing from the book, and that IS definitely the case here. However, the MAIN plot points are here, and it allows the film to move forward in a logical way that actually mirrors the book nicely. There are always going to be those moments that you WISH would be in the film, and that DID happen (the night scene in the ruins of Chicago post Capture the Flag was one I was hoping for and got), but there are plenty of other moments left out, and the introduction of Jeanine Matthew’s character happened WAY earlier than in the novel. Again, no huge detriment. Being a huge fan of Shailene Woodley, I felt she nailed this role, as she does excel at playing a character who has to be both vulnerable AND tough, but in a realistic way, and Woodley executes this well. Theo James does fine as Four, and he can definitely play someone who seems calm on the surface but is smoldering inside and when that gets let out…look out! And that IS how Four needed to be. Jai Courtney plays Eric with all the venom you expect from him, as that was how the character was in the novel as well. The soundtrack was very modern and often electronic beats booming through the speakers did assist in pumping up certain moments. And even though the story is about a dystopian reality, a la “The Hunger Games”, it stands on its own merits. Overall, I personally thought it is a film worth seeing, a book worth reading, and I look forward to continuing the adventure in reading the rest of the series and then looking forward to the film sequels.
As always, this is all for YOUR consideration and comment. Until next time, thank you for reading!