This review was first published on The Oxford Student, Oxford University’s student newspaper. See the original here.
Divergent, arguably one of the biggest young adult film releases of 2014, hit cinema screens last Friday with hordes of teenage girls storming cinemas all over the world. The mixed reviews from critics didn’t deter audiences as five times as many Divergent tickets were sold on Fandango in comparison to Twilight (the ultimate fangirl franchise), which was released six years ago. Divergent is the sort of film that critics love to hate, so all reviews must be taken with a pinch of salt as there are just as many good things as there are bad with this film.
Divergent follows the structure of a young adult film to a T. Essentially, a strong-minded teenage girl living in a dystopian world finds out she’s different from the rest of society but this is a secret she must keep or she will be killed. Throw in some action scenes, and a man with the most impressive jawline you’ve ever seen with a penchant for taking his top off, and you’ve got a major blockbuster in the works.
The strong female heroine is losing its novel status and fast becoming a pre-requisite for young adult novels.
Somewhat unusual for a film aimed at teenage girls, but the acting in this film is actually pretty darmn good. It is the two protagonists, Shailene Woodley (The Sweet Life of the American Teenager) and Theo James (Underworld: Awakening) that keep most audiences captivated, not the plot and certainly not the repetitive and unimaginative action sequences. The strong female heroine is losing its novel status and fast becoming a pre-requisite for young adult novels but Shailene Woodley brings Tris Prior to life in a way that few other actresses would be able to. Alongside her is Theo James who is undoubtedly the perfect man to play Tobias Eaton (aka Four). Although over ten years older than his on screen counterpart, there’s something about him that is both powerful and gentle at the same time which perfectly captures Tobias Eaton.
Fans of the book are likely to be disappointed as this film diverges (excuse the pun) from Roth’s plot line by a fair amount. Whilst numerous readers have stated that they believe the film to be even better than the book, I would have to disagree on this point. There are so many details in the book that are not translated onto screen, and whilst this is understandable, it doesn’t make it acceptable. Numerous scenes in the film are rushed and unexplained and without the background information learnt from reading the books one would be left constantly fighting to catch up with the plot, just like the clueless Dauntless transfers running for their first train.
Having read the book myself, I know that there was so much potential for this film to be brilliant but unfortunately it falls short. The general plot and the relationships between characters remain largely undeveloped and the characters often seem rather flat because of the uninspiring script. That said, there are still many positive aspects to this film. Firstly, the acting, as mentioned above; secondly the score, put together by Hans Zimmer, the man behind the scores of Inception and The Dark Knight; and thirdly the graphics, which had to be pretty impressive given that this is an action-packed dystopian film.
No matter what the critics say, it is clear that this new series is going to be getting a lot of attention and making a lot of money. The sequels, Insurgent and Allegiant, were put into work before the first film was even released which suggests there are high hopes for this series. I guess producers know that no critic will stand between a teenage fangirl and Tobias Eaton.