Divergent (2014 Movie) Review

Warning: This review contains spoilers for Allegiant.

I am going to say something I never thought I would say.

See the movies before reading the books.

Or, if that thought is untenable, then do yourself a favor and at least hold off on reading Allegiant until after its attendant film comes out. Why? Because simply put, reading Allegiant more or less ruined this movie for me. And if you have any Erudite in you at all, it’ll probably do the same for you.

It’s no secret that I hate that book, that I found the pseudo-science to be rage-inducing at best. But in watching the movie, I discovered a new problem. One that I feared would arise and that the movie could not overcome:

The description of Divergence as genetic perfection renders the first film incomprehensible.

The entire premise of the climax of this film hinges on the fact that those who are not Divergent can be controlled by simulations. Okay. There is some suspension of disbelief needed in order to make it work, but it’s doable. But knowing now that Divergence is a state of genetic perfection (or in the case of Four, some kind of weird blip) makes it impossible to keep that suspension going. How the fuck does a serum work on DNA? It doesn’t. It can’t. You can get away with saying that mind control or simulation serums can be made, and that maybe Divergents just have some resistance to them so you need more or something stronger to work, but fundamentally these serums should work on all. Because nothing that alters brain chemistry works on the genetic level. Science doesn’t work that way. It was always one of the weaker points of the books, but if you assumed that Divergence was something maybe more magical, it worked. Now though. It’s completely and utterly broken. And it can’t be repaired.

Outside of that, the movie does a gut job of pretty much any and all side-plots. We don’t get to know the other faction transfers. We don’t see the bullying, the violence, the voluntary quit of those who realize that they’re going to end up factionless anyway. They may as well have not even mentioned that they don’t train with the Dauntless-born in phase one because there is no other sense of separation in the film at all. The iconic zip-line scene does show up in the film, but it feels like padding, something kept for its visual value because the meaning of the scene – that she was the only transfer allowed to go and that alienation that it caused – is completely gone when no one even blinks and you can see the other transfers on the screen. Al’s suicide is so cavalierly handled that I am convinced the only reason they kept it at all is because they wanted Tris to still get attacked to further the relationship with Four. The other initiates have no personality here, no purpose in this story other than to give Tris a place to vent her feelings. Again, I get why they cut them (the film was almost 150 minutes long with trailers) but it is a weakness here.

The story that it does keep is mostly faithful, I guess? Whether or not you like this film will probably come down to how much you liked what was cut. Personally, I found those parts the best parts of the book, so I found myself board. If you are truly vested in Tris as a character though, you may still like it.

The theater where I saw this was almost evenly split between teens and adults, so it’s clearly finding a wide audience.

I’m glad that another YA genre film will succeed, I just wish a better movie had been so lucky.

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