Netflix UK film review: Divergent
Chris Bryant | On 28, Jul 2014
Director: Neil Burger
Cast: Shailene Woodley, Kate Winslet, Theo James
Watch Divergent online in the UK: Netflix UK / Amazon Prime / TalkTalk TV / iTunes / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Amazon Instant Video
Divergent is running the same race as The Hunger Games. The thematic principles, the characters and the target audience are all noticeably similar – even the futuristic dystopia bears huge resemblances. The comparisons are unavoidable, and Divergent suffers because of them.
With a pin in Katniss Everdeen’s story, however, Divergent does quite well. In a desolate Chicago, a community thrives by segregating the population based on their perceived personalities. Some farm, some defend, some lead, some research – it’s a simple division of labour. A few live without a faction and wander the streets as vagrants. In this world the motto is “Faction before blood”. When Tris Prior (Woodley), a politician’s daughter, is told that she doesn’t fit into a category – her personality is a mix of all of the others – she’s forced into secrecy, as the divergent population must in order to survive. Electing instead to join the warriors – the “Dauntless” – Tris hopes she can survive undetected.
Shockingly, she cannot. Based on Veronica Roth’s novel, the plot is by no means watertight and being the first of a trilogy of stories – the finale being told in two parts – it cannot answer all questions. But why they segregate their citizens isn’t questioned, why they allow them to choose their own faction isn’t really touched upon and why anyone would agree to this in a democratic society is also a little above the realms the script is willing to extend to. Nonetheless, we’re here, we’re in factions and we might as well get used to it.
Poorly paced, Divergent thrives while Tris is struggling to prove herself a fearless warrior. Aware she doesn’t belong and infuriated by the actions of the merciless Eric (Jai Courtney – all of the film’s better scenes rest on his massive, tattooed shoulders), Divergent balances some interesting action sequences, combat and weaponry with scenes of Scarecrow-style torture. It’s all well and good to battle your deepest fears, but zero explanation of the technology gives a superficial feel, detracting from the bravery these sections are intended to display. Post-training, we’re dragged (kicked, screaming and with a bag over our heads) to the edge of the cliff that is the second half, which is ill explained, without any effort to show that fear of Jeanine (Kate Winslet’s rarely seen opposition leader and suspicious dead-eyed starer) should be far greater than a few cuts and bruises.
Woodley herself does a fair job with a character that at points can seem devoid of it (as opposed to suppressing it), but she remains a prime example of why the film fails: she’s not Jennifer Lawrence, Tris is not Katniss and the writers do not manage to give the film any purpose beyond the immediate thrill of jumping from a train. They have the dystopia, they have the segregation, they have the political conspiracy but they develop them with only a few action sequences and a very awkward, forced depiction of sexual maturity. Both run the same race of young, feminist heroes fighting an oppressive regime. But while The Hunger Games has crossed the line, demanding to know the morality of forcing people to run, Divergent is busy lacing up shiny, branded shoes and waving to the crowd.
Divergent is available to watch online on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription, and on Amazon Prime Video, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.