Ever since The Hunger Games burst onto the scene back in 2012, one of the new trends in Hollywood is to adapt any and every dystopian young adult novel into a movie. Something about post-apocalyptic tales of teenage angst and romance just screams dollar signs. The Maze Runner, The 5th Wave and of course Divergent are the most notable attempts to cash in on this genre.
The challenge, of course, becomes how well do these movies stand out from each other? Can they carve their own path and be successful or do they just shamelessly rip off The Hunger Games? I can’t speak for Maze Runner or 5th Wave since I haven’t seen them, but reviews suggest that they may be uninspired.
As for Divergent, the third one in the series comes out tomorrow, with part 2 of the finale due out next year. Splitting the adaptation of the last book in a trilogy into two parts is another Hollywood trend that I wish they’d stop, but I digress.
Shailene Woodley was pegged to be the Jennifer Lawrence of the Divergent Series, and overall I’d say she has all the qualities that you look for in a teenage heroine: strength, smarts and a feisty demeanor. These serve her well considering that Divergent is all about picking a faction and forging your way through this post-apocalyptic Chicago (aka what it will look like when the Cubs finally win a World Series!). When Tris (Woodley) is revealed to be Divergent, meaning she doesn’t fit in any of the factions and can think for herself, she is forced to keep this a secret while trying to survive in her new faction.
A more detailed synopsis would only highlight the fact that Divergent relies on a lot of the archetypal elements of this genre in order to get by: a strong female protagonist, her modest family, an oppressive government and citizens who have to fall in line or they will be ostracized and maybe even executed. The Hunger Games popularized these tropes, but this the format that all of the films in this genre follow. This is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, most comic book movies incorporate all of the same elements and I enjoy them just fine, but like with comic book movies, I think this robs Divergent of any originality.
And about that cast. There are a lot of familiar faces in this movie: Ashley Judd, Miles Teller, Maggie Q. and Kate Winslet, to name a few. They are a welcome sight, but they aren’t given much to do other than fulfill the prerequisites of their roles and then get out of the way as Tris completes her coming-of-age story. And that’s just disappointing. Winslet in particular is largely wasted as the monotonous antagonist and it made me wonder why someone as talented as her would sign up for this in the first place. Maybe she owed someone a favor or her kids liked the book? I don’t know.
You may think that I couldn’t stand Divergent, but that’s not true. I just get frustrated with movies that settle for meeting the expectations of their target audience instead of aspiring to be something more riveting. Divergent is here to provide more good times with dystopian teenagers. There’s action, thrills, drama and romance, so if you like this genre it has everything you want and nothing that you don’t.
But it doesn’t escape the shadow of The Hunger Games, and that’s the main problem. It’s content to be an alternative to the adventures of Katniss Everdeen and her struggle against the capital.
Jesse’s Rating: B-