Sunday, March 23, 2014

Theatrical Review: Divergent

Date: March 23, 2014

Location: Pocono Movieplex
Time: 11:30
Party: 3 (mom & YA book loving aunt)

Director: Neil Burger

Duration: 140 minutes (+3 trailers)

Beatrice/Tris Prior- Shailene Woodley
Caleb Prior- Ansel Elgort
Andrew Prior- Tony Goldwyn
Natalie Prior- Ashley Judd
Marcus Eaton- Ray Stevenson
Tori- Maggie Q
Four/Tobias Eaton- Theo James
Eric- Jai Courtney
Peter- Miles Teller
Christina- Zoe Kravitz
Will- Ben Lloyd-Hughes
Al- Christian Madsen
Jeanine- Kate Winslet


When we first turned into the theater corridor, it looked empty. At second glance, there were maybe a dozen people there. Not a huge crowd.

There were three trailers, all of which were brand new.

The first was more or less a teaser for Disney's newest project, "Maleficent," where Angelina Jolie plays the title role. I'm on the fence about it because I'm not a huge fan of hers in general, but I don't know who else could have brought this wicked Disney villain to life in live action. It also seems like they took a little poetic license here. Aurora was blissfully unaware of any danger in her life as was meant that way by the fairies. Here, she's talking about Maleficent being this shadow that's always followed her. I'm not sure what part of the story they're showing here, but Aurora is supposed to be short of turning 16 before she fulfills the spinning wheel prophecy. She didn't look older than 10.

The second was for "Moms' Night Out." The only recognizable face in the trailer was Sean Astin, who plays the lead's husband. It's about a couple moms that want a night out away from their responsibilities and all kinds of shenanigans happen through the course of the night. Some of it was funny, some of it looked goofy and stupid, so whether or not it'll work will depend on the target audience.

And not surprisingly, the last preview played up to the insurance that people who see this movie will fall in love with Shailene Woodley and flock to her next role almost immediately.
I've seen "The Fault in Our Stars" mentioned in print, but I didn't know it wasn't another sci-fi/fantasy story. It looks like it will be the newest "Walk to Remember" because her character dealing with cystic fibrosis or something like it and hesitant to fall in love.
Her love interest just happens to be the same guy playing her brother in "Divergent."


As of writing this review, Divergent has earned $56 million in its opening weekend.
To paraphrase the article, this doesn't beat "Twilight" or "The Hunger Games" but ensures the franchise WILL happen for sure.
As if there was any doubt...

As someone who read the source material, I was not disappointed. In fact, I had a blast.
Perhaps if they enlisted YA book fans to write movie reviews, there'd be less negativity brewing around the Internet.
Probably the most insulting remark is the insistence that it's no different than the Hunger Games. It has a strong female protagonist and a dystopia backdrop that involves separate districts or factions. After that, it's its own freaking franchise, so shut up.

The nutshell of this movie's backdrop, you can easily Google, but I'll post it anyway.

In this post apocalyptic version of Chicago, the city is divided into five factions based on one value of humanity.
Dauntless are thought of as daredevils because they jump on trains and buildings, but they're the city's protectors.
Erudite favor knowledge.
Abnegation favors Selflessness and reaches out to the homeless factionless.
Candor favor honesty and always tell the truth whether or not you want to hear it.
Amity favor kindness and grow food for the city.

Beatrice Prior comes from Abnegation and like all the teenagers her age, she must undergo a simulation to determine her new faction. Her results come back inconclusive, making her something called Divergent that must be kept a secret. Anomalies in this society are eliminated because it threatens the breakdown of its structure.
At the Choosing Ceremony, she chooses Dauntless and her personal journey begins.

Spoilers from here on out

If I remember right, I got through the book series between December and January. Some of my memory has already faded, so I can't say for sure they had ALL the details right.
Although I'm pretty sure that Eric (one of the Dauntless leaders) and Jeanine (the Erudite leader played by Kate Winslet) didn't have this much coverage in the books. Minor details I'm willing to overlook.
Unlike in "Twilight," where I got mildly pissed that the nomad vampires got extra screen time... I promise this is the last time I bring it up in this review, but I took that novel to heart so much, I would have written the screenplay to follow the book's layout EXACTLY.

The only negative I felt was the scene where Tris visits her brother Caleb, who made the transfer to Erudite. In the book, she does it at her mom's request. She sees her on Visiting Day and asks her to ask him to look into the simulation serum.
In the movie, the Visiting Day scene doesn't take place and the serum doesn't come up in the conversation Tris has with her mom. She just tells him that she might not be able to survive in Dauntless and might get to transfer out. Granted, this scene does lead into the one where Tris almost gets killed by a few Dauntless initiates including the antagonistic Peter and her former friend, Al. But the only reason it seems to have merit gives way to a conversation between Tris and Jeanine.

A couple of the changes from the book to the movie were favorable, for sure.
Eric's extra screen time allowed him to look more menacing and antagonistic, making Four appear more sympathetic by contrast.
One or two scenes in the book didn't make it to film, but it was probably just as well. Edward, the initiate in first place, getting attacked by Will (therefore becoming Factionless) didn't contribute to the main objective of this screenplay.

And that objective is: taking us on a journey with Tris (when one chooses a new faction, they can change their name, so Beatrice Prior becomes Tris).

Of all the franchises I'd seen in theaters, what sets "Divergent" apart is that it takes the cerebral approach. You go on this journey with Tris, seeing and feeling everything from her perspective. She starts out a little timid, finding it difficult to keep up with her fellow transfer initiates, but she grows in strength exponentially because she must do so to survive.

It's too early in the game for me to start comparing her and Katniss, but one article I read does have a good point.
Katniss has her kick-ass archery skills that set her apart.
But overall, Tris is an ordinary girl that falls into some extraordinary circumstances. Her strength lies in her adaptation, something her Divergence allows her to excel in.

Part of the reason Tris is able to thrive lies in the friendships she gains.
She spends most of her time with Christina, a big-mouthed Candor that gets her off on the wrong foot with Four; Will, an Erudite and Christina's future boyfriend; and Al, one of the weaker people in the transfer initiate class.

Not as much time is spent on Al unless something important takes place. Him supporting Tris, almost getting her killed, and trying to make up for that. The only thing missing was him kissing her... but I guess it was just as well. This series isn't about another love triangle, but as I was reading it, it almost felt that way.

Going into this, I had my reservations about Theo James. Firstly because he's another British import being forced to do an American accent... why the hell do they keep doing that? Are there no good looking American boys? And secondly, he didn't fit the description of Four I got from the book.
I was picturing either Kevin Zegers in "The Mortal Instruments" or Wes Bentley in "The Hunger Games."
But within the time frame of his on-film introduction, I was sold immediately.

Throughout the film, I couldn't wait for him and Tris to get together because I knew they would. The sparks were flying immediately, although there were points early on where I was reminded of Edward Cullen, but that was Four trying to keep the pretense that he was the instructor and she was the student. Totally understandable.
My first inclination in the book they'd have a future was the capture the flag game (I thought I read in the book that it involved paint-balls... not the case here... still one of my favorite scenes with the two of them) and the knife-throwing scene where he says if he wanted to kill her, he would have. Al had trouble with this exercise and Eric insisted he have knives thrown at him... Tris calls him out and winds up taking his place.

Other than the seething romance set to develop between Tris and Four, the greatest part about this movie was the demonstrations of friendship. What Tris's friends do for her and what she does to support them. In addition to the knife-throwing scene with Al, she spurs Christina on when Eric has her dangling from the cliff after she concedes her fight with Molly.
Seeing things from Tris's perspective, you celebrate her victories and fall in love with everyone close to her. This camaraderie feels great to be a part of.

Another thing I noticed from the trailers was the focus on Divergents and eliminating the threat of them. The word "Divergent" was so dangerous in the books that it was only uttered a handful of times.
Somehow, though, this doesn't extend to Four. In the book, he finds out about Tris during the simulation stage and he loses his temper with her, cooling off any possibilities of a romance developing. A very dramatic scene that felt like such a blow... good thing he doesn't stay mad her forever.
The twist also continues that he shows her how to overcome the simulations as a Dauntless so nobody's suspicions of her Divergence will arise.

Following the order of the plot, a big chunk of it is Erudite's simulation going into effect.
Everyone but Tris and Four are in a trance, off to Abnegation to overthrow its denizens.
They're found out by Eric, but Tris manages to subdue him.
I was celebrating her victories throughout the movies, especially when it comes at Peter and Eric's expense because they sure deserved it.

She and Four are separated and her mom comes to her rescue... sadly, not even given 10 minutes to show how much of a bad-ass she is because her unfortunate death.
I almost teared up in response to Tris's grief.

The final confrontation had a few changes here and there. Jeanine wasn't present during Tris's fight with Four in the book, but it led to an even greater pay-off in the end.

So yeah, overall, the movie was great. I was absorbed in it from start to finish and it didn't feel nearly as long as it did. Because films like this are why I come to movies.
Not just to see my favorite books come to life, but to escape normalcy and journey elsewhere, see new and exciting characters you see yourself in or love to be friends with.

As they continue with the franchise, my only stipulation is that I want the final part of "Allegiance" to be thoroughly explained. In the book, the writing was vague, quick and therefore, disappointing.

Grade: A

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