Monday, March 24, 2014

Divergent in Theaters Now

There's been a lot of speculation about whether or not Divergent, the movie based on Veronica Roth's book, will hold up to the cinematic standards of The Hunger Games or be a flop like many other YA book-to-movie adaptations. I can't say how it will do in the box office since it does seem to have a smaller audience to begin with than The Hunger Games, but as to whether or not the movie is well-done and entertaining enough to compete, I think the verdict is in: YA movies aren't done yet, and this latest addition has enough of both entertainment value and gravitas to at least boost it into the same playing field as The Hunger Games. (I think we still know which would win in a death match.) It helps that their sub-genres and atmospheres are similar and that Divergent is not some supernatural flick about paranormal beings in love with mortal humans. So far, they haven't had much luck in translating those to the screen, no matter how popular the books are. But the dystopian, fight-for-survival stories are somewhat more realistic and have a much broader appeal in our modern world, where many feel like things are going to pot.

I won't go into the plot here. If you want that, see my review of the book series, which I loved. I will say that the movie was very true to the book, no doubt in part due to the author being a co-producer. Certain scenes were cut and trimmed, of course, as they always are, but most of what I expected was there.

I kept hearing good things about the actors before the movie came out. Entertainment Weekly has been gushing over Shailene Woodley (who plays the heroine, Tris) and her co-star Theo James (who plays the love interest, nicknamed Four). The actors look sort of robotic (my husband's term) in photos, but on screen, it's a whole different story. They have chemistry, emotion (Shailene does, anyway; Four is more stoic), and character depth. Even when they are antagonistic toward each other, they are obviously well-matched. Kate Winslet makes a great Jeanine, and the other characters, while not getting a lot of screen time, still fill in the cracks nicely enough. If you want more character depth, you really have to read the books.

Setting-wise, if there was anything that felt off to me, it was the Dauntless headquarters and the depiction of the pit. The screen's version underwhelmed me a bit. From the book's description, I had a much larger vision in mind, something a little more subterranean and rocky rather than man-made and boxy. But the rest of the post-apocalyptic Chicago setting as well as most of the visuals I had from reading the books were a pretty fair match.

The movie's pacing, especially in the first half, was just about right. It's surprising how well the movie hones in and focuses on the main points while still leaving room for a natural development of ideas and themes. It doesn't feel too rushed. However, I thought the second half of the movie was a little slower, and simultaneously a little more rushed, than the first. What I mean is that it doesn't seem to take the time as carefully as it does in the beginning to reel the viewer in to what is going on. Though we still see everything from Tris's perspective, it feels a little less personal. The conflict is big, and without the same emotional connection to it, you begin to feel the movie's length a bit. It runs 2 hours and 20 minutes. But it isn't boring, and I'd much rather have a too-long movie than split the book.

(Minor SPOILERS next two paragraphs) The movie is rated PG-13, mostly for violence. My husband remarked on how more people died than he expected (he has not read the book), but aside from a suicide, most of the deaths are impersonal, the result of remote gunfire. That doesn't include the murders that are only in people's fear simulations. And some of the violence is just part of the Dauntless training: injuries from fistfights and knives. There is later a stabbing.

I don't have many moral concerns with the story. There is no actual sex, though the characters want to. The morality is kind of gray there, but at least, the characters don't go through with it. There is a scene in a fear simulation where Four gets rough with Tris, but she handles it before it goes too far. (SPOILERS end)

Having read the books, I'm a little wary of the future of this series on screen. This installment is a good one, but I think a lot of its entertainment value comes from the training and the beginning development of Tris and Four's relationship. It's a new world, and everything is interesting to the viewer. Subsequent movies won't have quite the same pull, though I think fans will flock to them all the same.

Overall, I was very pleased with the outcome of Divergent on the screen. It's a great adaptation with strong actors who can carry the weight of such a movie. A lot of it depends on them, and they do more than pull through. They are perfect. I'd like to see this movie again, just to soak it all in properly. Four stars.

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