Hammering Out... is a series of movie reviews featuring a lively he said/she said discussion between John and Julie. This week: DIVERGENT.
JULIE: I read Divergent back around when it was released. I was a big fan of The Hunger Games, and I thought I should check out this new series because it was being touted as "the NEW Hunger Games." I was sorely disappointed. The book felt like a cynical hodgepodge of elements from other franchises, as if Veronica Roth thought that by taking certain things from other successful series (sorting from Harry Potter, kids living in a dystopian society finding and themselves in mortal peril from The Hunger Games, and bland instalove from Twilight), she'd have an automatic hit on her hands. Well, the joke was on us, because she did.
If you're unfamiliar with the premise of Divergent, it's about a dystopian society set in what used to be Chicago, where everyone is sorted into groups depending on their one most dominant character trait -- either brains or truth telling or daring or selflessness or happiness. If anyone happens to exhibit more than one of these character traits (because no person is ever both smart and bold), they are tagged as "divergent" and are considered a threat to the society. Our main character, Tris, is, naturally, one of these freaks of nature.
When it's her time to be sorted, Tris "chooses" Dauntless, AKA the badasses who are supposedly the law enforcers of the society, but who really just spend their time jumping onto moving el trains. You know they're hard core because they have a tattoo parlor on site. And they wear black. And boys and girls change clothes in front of each other. It's just complete anarchy. There's also a guy there, saddled with the bullshit name "Four," because he has four fears. He and Tris, of course, fall head over heels in love with each other and that's really all you need to know about their boring relationship.
Tris eventually realizes that the Erudite group (AKA the smartypants people) are trying to take over control of the government from the Abnegation group (AKA the public servants). This whole thing makes me very uncomfortable because it's like Roth is putting values on all of these traits, and is basically saying that being smart = being corrupt, but being a badass = being badass.
Anyway, the movie. It...exists? I enjoyed seeing Chicago filmed in such an interesting way, looking all broken down and whatnot, but, honestly, this story could've been set anywhere. I never thought the book used the setting in a very compelling way, and same goes for the movie. I guess the best part of the film (which actually made me laugh even when it wasn't supposed to) was when one character, portrayed by the actor who plays one of the worst characters currently on TV and whom I complain about constantly, gets killed. That was a moment of catharsis for me.
I've said enough. John, what did you think?
JOHN: I thought it was two-and-a-half hours of derivative world-building with no real plot. Seriously, director Neil Burger (The Illusionist, Limitless) must have had his hand held to the fire by Lionsgate because this wants to be the next Hunger Games so bad, you can practically smell the desperation. The bulk of the movie is spent is setting up this dystopian version of Chicago - all the rules, the players, etc. But, eventually there needs to be a story. This didn't have one. I mean, I guess it ramped up to some kind of climax when everyone just started shooting each other for no apparent reason. In Divergent's world, random gun fights = plot development. Otherwise, we're left with scenes of Tris training and undergoing some sort of dream weaving. I don't know. I didn't read the books.
Here's what I liked though: Shailene Woodley and Theo James have decent chemistry, and both pull off their underwritten roles with class and star power. Woodley has been good in everything I've seen her in, and James is a pleasant surprise. The guys in these YA adaptations are usually kind of blah, but I thought he rose above the material and put guys like R. Patz, Taylor Lautner, and, um, that one guy from Beautiful Creatures (yeah, nobody remembers him) to shame. The soundtrack is also pretty cool - good score by Junkie XL and Hans Zimmer, and great songs on the soundtrack from the likes of M83, Zedd, and Ellie Goulding. As for Burger, he does a serviceable job in the director's chair, but Divergent lacks any personal touch. Fans of the books will appreciate it, but everyone else will be left scratching their heads and asking, WTF?
JULIE: You're very right about the flimsy plot. The book was basically the same way. It was just a lot of people discovering what the Erudite folks (led by Kate Winslet, who must have been blackmailed into taking this role) were up to.
The dream/fear stuff was just annoying. I mean, everyone is aware that these dream fears they're facing are just fabrications. Why is everyone so scared? Also, those Erudite folks must really be smart, because they've developed a serum that brainwashes people and is controlled by a computer system. That is straight up genius. Maybe all the people in the Divergent world should give up and just start following these brainiacs. No smiling Amity dude could ever compete with those kinds of smarts.
The stupid thing about this movie was that I actually liked the end. It almost inspired me to pick up the second book, just to see what happens. I feel like this book/movie was all just set up and the real stuff will start happening in Book 2. Tris winds up on the road with an interesting group of misfits, among whom there are some very strained relationships -- leading me to this: I am totally shipping Tris and Miles Teller's character now. They hate each other so much, it's super hot. Forget Four. (I didn't really feel the chemistry between him and Shailene Woodley like you did. Theo James was fine, but he's one of those new-style leading men who barely have a face. He is the hearthtrob version of Ann Veal.)
Do you have anything to add?
JOHN: I thought James was more of a refined James Franco-looking dude. And, I'm guessing Miles Teller must have some kind of bigger character in the sequels because why else would he take such a small role here? Dude just got cast as Mr. Fantastic! Anyway, yeah - the movie was too long and I wanted it to end, but I could easily see myself in the theater for the sequel in a year. Totally agree about Kate Winslet too. Nice to see her in a paycheck role for a change, but she was not scary or intimidating in the slightest. I think she was going for evil, but she mostly just achieved a look of annoyed constipation. I'd give the movie 2 out of 5 stars. You? What crazy rating scale are you using for this one today?
JULIE: The whole "I hated this movie but I want to see the sequel" thing? Let's just call that the Man of Steel Principle. On my rating scale of faceless young actors whom Hollywood is shoving down our throats, ranging from Kellan Lutz to Chris Evans, I give this an Alex Pettyfer.
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