Hot on the heels of the Jennifer Lawrence craze, Divergent was expected to embody the best bits of the Hunger Games trilogy. The final product, however, did not rise to the occasion.
The film suffered problems with its main character. Beatrice took to the screen with a largely uninspiring persona and seemed to be struggling to commit to any clear characteristics. As the cinema’s latest strong female lead, she didn’t quite suit the taste her audience had acquired for Katniss Everdene. Physically weak and emotionally insecure, she began as more of an underdog than a warrior.
On the other end of the spectrum, her moralistic side prevented any sultry ‘bad ass’ qualities from taking over. Any that were hinted to only paled in comparison to Eva Green’s Artemisa who set the bar high in her debut in 300: Rise of an Empire, released the month before, dominating the role of scorned woman. With Cosmopolitan magazine hailing their readers to “watch this face” (Shailene Woodley’s that is) in their May issue, there seems to be more expectation than satisfaction in the aftermath of this film. As the Cosmopolitan writers also noticed, Shailene was always going to be fighting an uphill battle in the shadow of media darling Jennifer Lawrence.
The producers had admirably tried to bridge the gap between text and drama, but they paid too little attention to the book’s delicate plot lines in their eagerness to jump on the big themes. Since the 1950s, cataclysm and conspiracy has always sold well in the box office. A post apocalyptic society dictated by a totalitarian government with the fight for individualism facing obliteration seemed too good an opportunity to pass up. However, in the case of Divergent, the result was a crippling lack of perspective. Plot details were omitted from the film that had played a crucial role in the novel. If the producers had included, even fleetingly, the Christian heritage of the Abnegation house it would have given a shred of logic to the abrupt moment where the passionate on-screen kiss was punctured by a mumbled “I don’t want to go too fast”. If anything, the anticlimactic reception of this film can be traced back to this rather flat moment.
Surprisingly though, the film managed to claw back some of its reputation as the plot lines started to grow into their own. A heroic element began to emerge as the main character developed into something a little less bland. Determination had taken the place of sullenness, quiet confidence replaced timidity and she traded up from loose grey wool to tight black leather. Although it took the best part of 90 minutes, by the film’s climax some solid foundations had been laid for the sequel. Not the blockbuster we had expected, but still a good platform for the next release to stand on.