First up, the by now prerequisite true confession: I haven’t read the series Divergent is based upon. So it’s, in that sense, a “pure” review — I have no “but THIS happened THAT way” comparisons to make.
We’re in a dystopian future, about 100 years after the “big war” that’s supposedly wiped out everyone else on the planet (sure it has). The population of what’s left of Chicago (why should New York get all the action all the time?) is surrounded by a gigantic electric fence, supposedly to keep scary things out (sure) and NOT to keep everyone here in (right). The people are divided into 5 factions. They all have impressive names, but they break down more recognizably as Hippies, Smarties, Crazies, Lawyers, and Quakers. Seriously, this is what these people appear to emulating.
The Hippies till the fields and live in communes while wearing orange peasant clothing, the Smarties dress like Professor Snape in a blue phase and live in glass houses, the Lawyers dress in black and white almost-tuxedos and appear to live in courtrooms, the Quakers dress in dove gray and live in simple boxes without a lot of electricity, and the Crazies dress in black leather with the occasional flash of color or cotton just to keep it interesting.
Our heroine, Beatrice, who renames herself Tris about a quarter into the movie, comes from the Quaker faction. After some serious soul searching that seems to involve the fact that she’d really like to look in mirrors a lot more than the 30 seconds a day she’s allowed, and after the Sorting Chair (really) shares that she could fit into more than one faction, and after Maggie Q (who may have had a name in this movie but I don’t know what it was) shares that being in more than one faction is very bad (could this be our… plot?), Tris joins the Crazies, mostly because it seems like they have the most fun, run everywhere, climb on everything, jump a lot, and are really dedicated to wearing leather.
The Crazies also have a Brooding Hottie in the person of Four, who is played by Theo James. This is probably the smartest thing the creators of this movie did, because James is truly attractive and the camera likes him (as do the ladies). Of course, if James isn’t your type, there are plenty of others to choose from, including the Blonde Psycho, filling the Bad Sergeant role and leaving Good Sergeant slot to the Brooding Hottie, as is the requirement of all basic training films, the Lost Boys who round out the Crazies, and Noble Father. In addition to Tris, attractive women are represented in the Sassy Black Friend, Maggie Q, Evil Ice Beyotch Smartie, Selfless Mother, and Giant Mean Girl.
There are plenty of attractive people in this dystopia — the only really unattractive ones are the Homeless, who have no factions and therefore no food or shelter. The terror of training, at least for the Crazies, is that if you don’t pass you will (surprise!) become one of the Homeless, since it’s verboten to return to your faction of birth. What happens to those who remain in their birth faction but don’t pass isn’t clearly stated. Presumably they’re used as soylent green or something.
The Crazy Initiate Class is divided into those who were Born Crazy and those who have chosen to join Team Wannabe now. We never see what the Born Crazy team does, since Tris is part of Team Wannabe. As Tris is trained (savaged) and she learns more (sorta), it appears that being able to fit into more than one faction means you’re divergent (we guessed about a minute in, since that’s the movie’s title), and this is very bad as far as the reigning faction leadership in charge, Smarties in particular, are concerned. Especially since it’s the Quakers who are running the government, and the Smarties have had enough of that, thank you very much. Divergents could somehow tip the balance of power because they are apparently the only ones able to think for themselves. Tris’ mother warns her that if she’s divergent it’s a death sentence and therefore Tris has to hide what she is from everyone.
There are a lot of drugs used in this movie. Drugs are given before you sit in the Sorting Chair, drugs are given to test your mental abilities as you face your fears in simulations, and on and on. Faction Before Blood has replaced Bros Before Hos in this world, and there’s a lot of “shoot innocents” and “kill your family” stuff going on, supposedly all while under the drugs’ influence and all to make the Crazies, um, Crazier.
Tattoos are also important, at least to the Crazies, and Maggie Q both administers tests in the Sorting Chair and puts tats onto young Crazies. She also warns Tris (again and again and again) that Tris is in great danger. For someone trying to hide divergence, Maggie Q talks a lot.
Tris also makes friends and enemies and develops a relationship with the Brooding Hottie who has many secrets you can guess from the fact that he’s the romantic male lead in a movie where people being different is a deadly and dangerous thing. Though, since this is the case, his big “taking off his shirt to reveal his tattoo” scene makes a little less sense.
A word about the fight training and fight scenes. I have never — and I do mean NEVER — seen such an awful display of fighting in any movie, ever. The stances and moves are ridiculous — not “it’s all wire work” ridiculous but “if you stand like that you get smacked down immediately so why are they training you to do that” and “has no one EVER heard of kicking your opponent while standing up” ridiculous. Clearly mixed martial arts, boxing, and regular martial arts haven’t made it to the future, despite the fact that the Crazies are the city’s police force/military. One intermediate Kung Fu class could take on most of this force and win, without working hard enough to increase in rank. The UFC could come into this town and take over in about 5 minutes. (Which is probably why they have that giant electric fence.)
Of course, despite almost failing out of the Crazies and having to join the Homeless, Tris manages to pass all the tests. Only to have even worse things happen. How many people Tris cares about will die before the movie ends? How many divergent are there wandering about (seems like lots and lots) and why are some of them really stupid at moments when a smart person does their best to blend in or think on their feet?
There are a lot of other movies in this movie — Harry Potter, Platoon, Starship Troopers, Mortal Kombat (though not the actual fight scenes) — and a lot more besides. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but each time I recognized something as being from somewhere else it pulled me out of the movie. I have to assume that the book wasn’t as clumsy in its execution.
Despite all my snark, this movie wasn’t bad. The production values are great, the acting good to passable, and — barring the majority of the hand-to-hand scenes — the action sequences are exciting. The love story and all the “saw that coming” tragedy is very typically YA, but still executed well. However, I didn’t think this movie was all that great, either. The hubs liked it better than Ender’s Game, the chicklet liked it better than The Hunger Games, I liked it better than The Way Way Back. So, for my family, this is the best YA movie we’ve seen in a long time. Is the book better? Probably. Should you read the book before the movie? Up to you. But since I’m an author, I have to vote for read the book, regardless (it’s in our Yappy Faction rulebook). Based on my track record, I have to figure that if I’m lukewarm (which I am) the movie’s going to be a gigantic hit. You heard it here first.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5