One choice can transform you
UK Certificate: 12A
From the start of this film, with voice over from Tris (Shailene Woodley) setting out the scene as we pan over a broken and largely abandoned cityscape (Chicago, 100 years after the war) the visuals are stunning and an integral part of the story. I’m not usually a fan of narration, but it works here to bring us up to speed, otherwise people who haven’t read the book would be floundering in a sea of oddities. (Side note: read the book. It’s worth it.)
Why is everyone colour coded? Separated into factions? What are factions anyway? Unlike many dystopians, there’s no obvious state or control, the system in itself is sufficient to keep everyone controlled. But is it? Divergent is a coming of age drama that examines human characteristics in counterpoint to each other, and as well as being a great action thriller with just that hint of romance, has elements that should get SF fans debating long after the credits have rolled. Based around the choice made by each teenager at age 16, we find out that the faction system doesn’t cater for those with more than one characteristic – the Divergent, who must hide their true nature if they wish to survive.
The film is necessarily an overview of the ideas in the novel. Does it stand alone? I think it does, although I suspect that it will be unfairly dismissed as another hunger games, and this does neither any favours. There is a feeling of sanitisation – much of the violence is watered down. People who are shot don’t usually curl up in neat non bloodied heaps, and this jars with the hand to hand fight scenes where aggression is glorified. This kind of internal inconsistency is the weakest part of the film, and I suspect this has been done for purely commercial reasons, to keep the categorisation down. I would rather have either seen less violence at all, or for it to have a more consistent feel.
That said, the action scenes are well carried by the female lead, and it’s good to see the type of physical action being undertaken without over the top cartoon character figures or costumes. The hints of romance don’t overwhelm, or feel shoehorned in, although Four (Theo James) isn’t allowed as much character development as I’d have liked to see. (I suspect I will not be alone in this.) Divergent is part of a growing trend that I’m pleased to see at the box office, of allowing women to lead films that aren’t just rom coms or worthy cause movies, and long may the trend last and develop.
All of this doesn’t tell you whether you should go see the film. Do you like SF? Dystopia? Enjoy seeing a woman actually fighting, getting bruised, picking herself up and going on? Happy for her to love and lose? I know the story, I’m a fan of the book, and I still had my heart in my mouth as Tris fights for her life, still took a deep breath as they had *that* conversation, sat at the edge of my seat as the film raced towards its climax. It’s not a great film. But it’s a good film. And it’s worth your time.
It's Got: great soundtrack, good visuals and interesting ideas. And tattoos. Lots of tattoos.
It Needs: viewers who aren't afraid of heights
Alternatives:Gattaca, The Hunger Games
From the start of this film, with voice over from Tris (Shailene Woodley) setting out the scene as we pan over a broken and largely abandoned cityscape (Chicago, 100 years after the war) the visuals are stunning and an integral part of the story. I’m not usually a fan of narration, but it works here […]