Divergent transports us to the dystopian future of Chicago, a city that survived “the war” and is rebuilding from within through class-sanctioning means. Every person within Chicago has to join a faction in their adolescents, the factions (broken down into simpler terms) distinguish whether one will be a giver of social aid, a representative of the legal system, a well-educated (science based) individual, a farmer, or a protector of the citizens. If no faction is chosen or you get kicked out of your faction you ultimately end up homeless, depending on the kindness of those who give social aid. This is where we meet our main character, Tris, who is raised as a giver of social aid yet wants to be something more so when it comes time to choose she chooses to join the Dauntlets, a faction that protects the citizens. To join a faction you take a test to find out what your true character traits are and then you can decide whatever faction you want, but it is strongly recommended that you stick to your strengths because once you choose a faction it is yours for life and the audience is constantly reminded of this through a “faction before blood” mantra on repeat. Tris’ test is inconclusive, which means she is a “Divergent.” Divergents are threats to the system because it means their strengths cross over boundaries. Long story short, Tris has to choose whether she wants to conform to a societal mold of the Dauntlets or stand out, be unique and change the world.
This movie is a cliché within a cliché within a cliché. It follows the formula that made other teen-based fantasy literature made into movie successful and people are buying it like its solid gold. But if we take the time to take a step back we’ll see that Divergent is nothing more than average, perhaps mediocre is a more appropriate word.
The first cliché that can’t be missed? The class divide. People are put into factions (similar to class) to keep them in their place. Look at The Hunger Games or Harry Potter or even the likes of A Game of Thrones. The first divide is always to create a villainous class. In The Hunger Games you have The Capital and the first few districts, in Harry Potter you have The Slytherins, in A Game of Thrones you have The Lannisters, and here we have the Erudites (the well-educated). Secondly you have a controlling faction. The villainous class have to have trolls to do their work for them. This is across the board and I don’t want to spoil the entire movie, but it’s quite evident once it starts to know what’s going on and how it’s going to happening.
The next cliché of course is the divide within the class. Trouble always brews from within “the utopian” part of the dystopian society. And like clockwork this trouble brews to add another level to our film of classic tropes. We follow the typical love interest, the whole “will they/won’t they” routine with someone who is wild but can be tamed. We follow the “twist” villains – and don’t have to ask the questions of: “will this person end up a villain?” because we know with the way everything else has played out in this story that they are. We follow the unlikely hero, someone who is way out of their league who suddenly becomes the most talented in the field overnight. This list goes on and on and doesn’t seem to end. There’s even the ominous “ride off into the sunset but not everything is ok” feel to the ending.
The characters are written so blandly that it’s impossible to connect with any of them, despite the impressive cast list. Shailene Woodley, who plays our hero, Tris, is so plain, boring and unengaging that I had to keep reminding myself that the story was about her… and then I would have to ask: “why the hell is this story about her?” I was extremely surprised at some of the actors who actually agreed to be in this film. Don’t get me wrong, I get that this film got a big financial backing from eOne, and it’s a big payday… but it’s still a hack job of a film. Ray Winstone. Really? This is where we’re sinking to? Kate Winslet. Academy Awards to this? I think the only person that I really expected to be in this film was Miles Teller and even still, he is sorely miscast… I also don’t think he should be Reed Richards in the Fantastic Four reboot.
Here’s the thing though, despite the fact that this movie plays out like a children’s picture book I kept watching. Was I entertained? Mildly. It was like watching a movie for the third or fourth time. I’ve seen it before. I know what’s going to happen. I’ve had the chance to analyze some of the characters. Yet here I am watching for entertainments sake. Does Divergent work as a popcorn film that shouldn’t be read too far into? Sure. Does Divergent work on any other level? Absolutely not.