Divergent: Standing Out from the Pack of YA Adaptations?

Let the games continue. The next mega YA book series-turned-film franchise has been born, in the form of Divergent, based on the acclaimed bestseller by actual young adult author Veronica Roth. The success of this film rests almost exclusively with its protagonist Tris, played by the majestic, beautiful and wise-beyond-her-years Shailene Woodley, who has garnered considerable praise ever since she started out as pregnant teen Amy on The Secret Life of the American Teenager. Here, she brings a casual approachability to the role of a young girl who discovers that she is not like the rest, slowly rising to become ebellious outlaw (not unlike Katniss Everdeen, played by the equally approachable Jennifer Lawrence inThe Hunger Games).

Because here’s the big secret: Divergent isn’t THAT different fromThe Hunger Games. In addition to two fearless female heroes, we have the ‘Choosing Ceremony’ here, where Tris must select the faction of humanity to which she belongs. This is an undeniable extrapolation of Hunger Games’ The Reaping (and the Sorting Hat in Harry Potter, for that matter), where a bunch of young folk gather to choose or be chosen, and learn their fate in the process. Additionally, the general overtones of a post-gigantic-war dystopia—and the over-the-top ways in which those in charge decide to ‘keep the peace’—are similar in both series. But here’s the even bigger secret: the fact that these films share some base similarities is not a horrendous thing. While Hunger Games is a rock ‘em sock ‘em survival of the fittest, Divergent is a very cerebral journey, intense and somewhat engrossing in it own way, mainly thanks to Shailene.

Readers of the beloved book will find almost everything they loved about the story here, but in true book-to-film fashion, things may feel just a little brushed over or bypassed. The ‘fear landscapes’, in which Tris must face her deepest and darkest fears, are unfortunately not that fearful in the film. And whatever the threatening presence may be in the story, it seems a bit vague, and arrives a little overdue—the real meat of the plot, the good-guys-fighting-bad-guys, all happens in the second half and feels rather rushed.

But when the fighting does happen, it’s intense and intimate, and we watch as Tris finds her power, her strength and her sense of self all at once. Kate Winslet as Jeanine Matthews is a fascinating villain; you can’t help but wonder how she got to be who she is. Here’s hoping the next installment(s) will give us a peek (especially for those of us who haven’t read the books!).

Rounding out the three amazing women who make Divergent what it is: Ashley Judd as Tris’ mother Natalie. In just four short scenes, she paints the picture of a dedicated mother who is not all that she seems—and who can fight with the best of them when the going gets tough.Divergent succeeds in delivering the global message that we are all complex, unclassifiable beings, capable of various amazing things.

As for the boys here, we’ve got the brooding Theo James, who trumped all the rumors last year when everyone from Zac Efron to Will Ferrell (not really!) were being buzzed about for the role of Four. He does a stoic job of providing Tris with some tough love (emphasis on the love part). There are two other standout performers in Divergent as well, and clearly the casting department likes to keep it in the family: playing Caleb, Tris’ Erudite brother, is Ansel Elgort, set to star opposite Shailene in the upcoming Fault in Our Stars, and as one of the several badass antagonists in Dauntless who give Shailene a hard time (they are hard to keep track of) is Miles Teller as Peter, who played her adoring love interest Sutter in The Spectacular Now.

We already can’t wait for Insurgent.

-DH

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