Divergent is one of the most faithful book-to-film adaptions I’ve seen in a long time. It carried over almost all of the elements of the novel that fans would want to see, and maintained the structure of the story surprisingly well. Its downfall, however, is just that; it was faithful to a fault. It stuck so rigidly to Veronica Roth’s blueprint that it brought over a number of weaknesses that when on paper don’t seem too jarring, but on film are magnified that bit more. Despite that, though, it still worked for me.
It’s interesting that so many fans have been complaining that the film made a crazy amount of alterations when in my eyes, there were very few, and the changes made were so slight that it made very little difference.
The best aspects of the story are intact, with protagonist Tris’ desire to free herself from her restrictive upbringing still tying in well with the novel’s theme of social structure and self discovery. These themes are probably more prevalent in the lead up to Tris arrival at her chosen “faction”, before the story takes a turn towards more standard, well-treaded ground.
What the novel explains throughout this seemingly standard fare, the film doesn’t, and it leaves non-readers out of the loop, expecting something more to happen. Then the finale starts and the whole thing gets a bit muddled. Again, for fans of the book this all makes sense, but I would really find it hard to digest the events if I hadn’t been expecting them.
Where the story fails, the two leads keep the film going, Shailene Woodley in particular. She’s both commanding and relatable, and shows remarkable sensitivity, something that’s missing in a lot of young heroines in the limelight right now. The rest of the cast are fine, but the limited development restricts them from doing much with the roles that they’re given. Only Ashley Judd shines that bit more than the rest, something that pays off well in the film’s final act.
The reception outside of the Divergent fan base has been lukewarm, which isn’t surprising, and I have to say I get it. This is one of those films that are really only for those who are familiar with it already. That’s not to limit the films appeal. I do think that if this is your kind of thing, it gives you enough of a push to go all in and experience the story full circle.
Flaws aside, this was the best non-Hunger Games YA film in ages. It doesn’t exactly step outside of the box, but it doesn’t make shit of the right ingredients like recent releases have. As a fan, I’m pretty satisfied, and I’m already looking forward to the now green-light sequel, Insurgent. With an even more exciting story and a less scattered narrative, it should hopefully eliminate the issues that held Divergent back.
3.5 out of 5 factions
Originally posted at PandaTV.