The Divergent movie is exactly what you expect out of a movie – the plot is more streamlined and a lot of the poorly explained bits work better, but they had to be papered over by standard cliches, and it starts a lot stronger than it finishes. The end result is not particularly interesting. (And since the no-plant-life thing was just an artifact of bad writing and this city is covered in green, I can’t even enjoy the question of wtf happened to mess the world up so badly.) The opening sections were great and an all-around improvement, though.
But first, trailers!
The Noah movie was first, introduced by Hermione followed by a trailer cut to emphasize her character. While not relevant to this, there was this line about how “We have to save the innocent!” because apparently there is exactly one baby in the world and the rest of them aren’t a concern. I really hope Japan or someone else who doesn’t really get Christianity will do a Flood story and engage with the apocalyptic aspects without cramming how moral it all is down the view’s throat. Unfortunately this trailer ended with a helpful message that the story of Noah is in this book called “the bible” for any of us heathens who didn’t know about Jesus our lord and savior, so it’s going to be shit.
Next was Captain America, like the last time full of women’s voices though naturally the people on screen aren’t.
Then was that Purge thing again, which opens with the female character talking. (My brother expressed more horror at the idea there was a sequel, but like many poorly justified dystopias, it does pass the test of being interesting at the moment it takes place.) Mostly men after that.
It’s only at Spiderman that we open with a guy talking.
Then it’s guys guy guys guy with Maze Runner, which does look interesting enough I’m thinking of checking out the book.
Then something about a danceoff that has literally one female line which is two words.
Quiet Ones continues the trend – there’s a lot of men while a female character is a sad, terrorized victim spewing evil by existing. I think you could take the fact abuse more easily flows from men to women without it playing into sexism of its own along the way, but unless the trailer was deliberately designed to hide that fact about the movie, not this time.
Finally there’s some football movie about the inspiring tale of a rich powerful white guy not being unconditionally worshiped by everyone for doing what he wants without regard for anyone else’s option. There were two women, one there to fawn over how she supports him in every way because he’s so super great and the other to give a punchline about old people understanding technology more than him.
So overall it felt like they deliberately tried to find trailers that featured women, it’s just they could only find three of them. I suspect Captain America and Noah, being pretty big budget, have better options.
Anyway. On to the movie.
This time, the wall is a serious business affair of concrete and crow’s nests and there’s no suggestion it’s just a busywork task. The city otherwise has a very Last of Us aesthetic, which has the unfortunate side effect of making me wonder why they insist on having the farms outside the wall – it’s supposedly actually protecting them this time, and the plantlife is actually lusher in Chicago proper, so why not farm there? Last of Us had the extremely serviceable answer of zombies for why no one was exploiting the greenery, but in this they’re living in the midst of it and yet no one’s considered having their farms on the safe side of the wall.
The factions don’t act like rigid stereotypes in this one and you actually need the different colored outfits to identify people at a glance. Tris’ characterization has taken a huge step up because rather than her telling us how she thinks Dauntless are so super great, we see her acting like them, running along after them when she’s a little girl, climbing things, etc. And that makes so much more sense with the idea kids are supposed to choose.
Unfortunately, the backstory has been shifted – now, the founders just divided people up into factions because that’s what one does. That’s what I originally assumed would be the setup when I heard of Divergent and why I initially wasn’t interested, and I really preferred the book’s handling of people arguing and then splitting up with a truce – it’s not all that much of a history, but it gives you far more than just that people decreed this would be so. (We do see Candor on what look like government panels, though, so at least when they changed it, they made sure the result did look like an actual planned society where the roles were intended.)
The casting is multicultural, but shots of the factionless are the only place you’ll be seeing predominantly dark-skinned people. So close! We get very little about the factionless otherwise, which is probably good because it’s not something that works well under scrutiny, especially combined with Abnegation running the government.
For some reason they decided to make a big deal of the mirror to the point it’s under lock and having mirror time doled out like a privilege instead of just flat out discouraged. Also, Abnegation women love those obnoxious loose necklines that are a waste of fabric without keeping you warm. They kept Tris’ nervousness about her body and showed it well in her actions, but because of her starting outfit, the Dauntless uniform is actually covering a lot more skin. (I guess it shows off her legs more and she could feel exposed that way, but movies generally only show people’s upper halves so it’s not something that comes across.)
On the other hand, Abnegation now don’t eat chicken breast all the time and we don’t get infodumps about how they have weird rules about not responding during conversations. Tris even responds to the bit about Marcus by asking if it’s true, so it’s clear that Abnegation is generally able to handle basic discussion. (Also, the Erudite leader tells Abnegation that they just don’t know where those mean rumors are coming from, suggesting they’re completely baseless rather than published widely, so it makes sense that her dad would dismiss it as Erudite lies. Unfortunately this latter bit just makes it confusing when it turns out the statements are perfectly accurate so why wouldn’t you stand behind them? Since that’s the part that’s vital to the plot, it’d have made ore sense to go the other way and admit Abnegation may have some issues dealing with corruption in their own ranks.)
Dauntless is still the fun faction, and this time they’re not suicidal. They have railings and everything! And we see them spending a lot of time training on punching bags and stuff. In this, the Dauntless are actual soldier-police and the faction reflects this – the physically inferior or those who aren’t willing to die when ordered to aren’t people they want. We even see them doing actual regular work helping move heavy loads, just like the real army will put soldiers in peacetime to work on labor projects because it just makes sense to use the super-fit people to help out. (Also, in this they have the ranking system be a new innovation this year, and the fight to the knockout also brand new, and they don’t have the kids fighting to knockout constantly. Just so much saner in general.) This also makes the Erudite mindcontrol plan more reasonable, since Dauntless has no reason to throw in with them. They should’ve removed the subplot about the Dauntless leadership already supporting them and just had Erudite calling the shots all along. You could have it all masterminded by Eric, who otherwise is a dropped plot point – he’s the face of how Dauntless is turning evil, except that’s never addressed by the rest of the movie, down to one of the other leaders quoting Al’s line about Dauntless being about the courage to help others. We have the whole faction before blood thing repeated a few times too, so it’d have worked fine to have Eric help Erudite take over Dauntless and then Tris could find out he’s a transfer from Erudite and she’d yell at them for violating faction before blood.
(The Dauntless do have the problem of not having any cleanly good parts now – the skyscraper joyride still starts out a joyride but then becomes dangerous for drama and rather than paintball capture the flag they shoot each other with these electric darts that simulate gunshots, which makes sense from a soldier perspective but not from a safety one – there are many parts of the human body that don’t heal well after getting a spikey electric dart jammed into them. And although they’re supposedly actually doing stuff in the movie, it doesn’t have any details to give, so it’s harder to believe this sort of abuse or their creed of following orders even when it’s to murder innocent people is necessary. As a result, we don’t really see the good side of Dauntless.)
Candor is just there to yell at Abnegation, and nothing ever comes of the fact the truth faction believes they’re a pack of liars. And Amity just smiles a bunch while harvesting plants.
As to the storyline…kind of sucks. The test is even shorter and it’s even harder to understand why she’s divergent. We’re told immediately why divergence is a big deal, but unfortunately it’s the most trite of answers, that the faction system is about controlling people by putting them in boxes and oh no Tris isn’t conformist enough. Then there’s this bizarre bit from Evil Erudite Blonde in the first half of the movie where she keeps repeating that choice is so important and it’s great how everyone can choose their faction and so on. My best guess is it’s meant to make it surprising her plan is controlling people, except she delivers her lines like she’s a particularly malevolent Lex Luthor. I assume that’s what the director was asking for, so kudos actor, you could’ve made kittens sound evil, but it makes absolutely no sense.
(Also this is minor but stood out to me – during the choosing ceremony, we see kids dripping their blood on things, but then there’s no sign of it when the next kid shows up, like they get fresh bowls for each person.)
Tris was okay – she got a lot of good characterization early on, then got bland but did manage a nice one-liner. Also she beat up lots of people. She kept having her hair loose which really annoyed me, though.
Four’s dickery is amusing but he never gets to the loss of control that endeared me to him – the closest we get is when he shows off his tattoos, says he wants to be all the things, and admits he’s pretty shit at kindness. Without seeing that he’s got violent impulses he’s restraining/redirecting, his existing outbursts don’t look like outbursts but decisions to be an asshole. Also, they don’t show him with three beers during his hey-Tris-you’re-kinda-cool bit, which was a great loss. He ends up being really bland. On the other hand, he’s more competent, thinking up a plan to help Tris hide that she’s divergent rather than just heading into the fear landscape as part of the courtship, and Tris’ attempt to shake him out of the simulation is still annoyingly power-of-love but actually uses a particular bit of his character he showed earlier in a clever way.
Eric is actually pretty great in that he flips to friendly just long enough to fuck you over. In this one, when Christina says she surrenders he helps her up and says fighting’s done for the day and asks if she’s okay before shoving her over the side. The whole thing is also less insane because she doesn’t have to hang very long, making it more obviously just about terrorizing her but not making it clear if he actually has the power to kill them. (There’s also no eye stabbing in this, so we aren’t left with the sense there’s no rules or discipline.)
Evil Erudite Lady is…ergh. I like that she’s competent and scary, but it’s such a misogynistic framing. She’s blonde because older blonde women are fake pretty and therefore evil, and she’s bottle blond because makeup is also fake pretty and therefore evil, unlike Tris who is the good sort of blonde. She oozes evil with every line so she comes off as unbalanced and doesn’t really own her goals, and I felt like it was tied to the fact she speaks authoritatively. Ironically, an evil guy in her position would have been a more seductive sort of evil where he was given lines to make him sound reasonable, while there’s absolutely no attempt to make her seem like she might have a point. Evil for guys is that the powerful guy in charge happens to be unbalanced, while evil for women is that she’s female while being in charge and the results are just inevitable.
Al’s section fell apart. He’s barely there for the first part but people keep mentioning him to remind us he’s around, he says thanks to Tris that time she saves him, then it’s a murder attempt. Then he tries to apologize, Tris tells him not to ever touch her, he commits suicide and she needs to be told it wasn’t her fault and he killed himself for reasons unrelated to her. If he killed himself over guilt about what he did it also wouldn’t be her fault, you know.
Will is a wonderful fount of info and I wish he was talking in every scene. He also helps clarify the whole factionless thing and set up the altered plotline properly – we know that parents aren’t allowed to take their kids back and he says specifically that Abnegation can’t make an exception for her because Erudite’s watching them and won’t let them break any other rules. This leaves us with the suggestion Abnegation’s been taking factionless in whenever they can and otherwise acting decently rather than factiony, and the new plotline is that they’re getting eliminated for threatening the faction system. (You know what’d help? To remove the bit about Abnegation running the government and have it work by representation. Abnegation works so much better that way.)
And yeah, that’s the plot. The most boring and cliche of plots, which I guess is what happens when the plot you’re adapting from is just a puff of fog and no one’s willing to waste one of their own ideas replacing it. Erudite wants to eliminate human nature itself and make sure nothing ever threatens the faction system, and the faction system staying in place is super important because ERROR THE SCENE YOU ARE LOOKING FOR CANNOT BE FOUND. Also, everyone knows about divergents and hates them because they know divergents are ERROR THE SCENE YOU ARE LOOKING FOR CANNOT BE FOUND. There’s absolutely no attempt to reconcile the fact divergents are a threat to the people in charge of the faction system by being unpredictable with the fact the people in charge of the faction system end the movie getting shot in part because they were harboring divergents. Tris is both in terrible danger from her government and watching another group overthrow her government because they protect people like her.
On the brighter side, at least they made sense of the simulation business and got rid of the training soldiers to suicide or declare their own reality. In this, divergence can be seen in the simulation because different factions react in different ways. A Dauntless is supposed to never give up and find a way to survive. That makes so much more sense. Maybe Erudites are supposed to try to solve the simulation as a puzzle, like declaring they break the glass, and Abnegation is supposed to suicide because fear shows attachment to the self so put yourself aside. Going off script makes complete sense as the sign of divergence and there’s no point in even having the hacking capabilities.
The whole subplot with the serum is cut so now Tris just runs to her brother to be weepy at him about how she’s not cut out for Dauntless and then yell at him when he says Erudite’s planning to take over because all the other factions want them to, because the fact other factions scream at them in the street that they hate Abnegation means nothing, he only thinks that because Erudite said so and they’re evil liars. The serum is thrown in at the end by Four just expositing the whole thing near the end. At least they don’t sit around for ages on the knowledge.
Then the ending is really thrown together. To show that all divergents aren’t controlled we have some idiot wandering around going “Hey guys what’s up? What’s going on?” To worsen the plot hole, he’s killed on sight, then when Tris and Four are caught they’re dragged to Evil Blonde, then there’s a moment of sense when she only then notices Tris’ injury and says nevermind that’ll affect the data just kill her, then they drag Tris out and behind a building instead of just shooting her. Still makes more sense than the Bond villain water tank thing, though.
Her dad commits suicide by cop for no real tactical gain. It’s even more obvious than the book that it’s just to kill her parents, and in this Marcus is right there ready to be pushed in front of her. Then Four is just hanging out near the computers in a simulation rather than being useful, the whole drama goes down with a pack of armed Erudite watchers, then the two of them singlehandedly wipe out that room, then Evil Blonde, the last one standing, orders the Dauntless to kill all Abnegation (why even bother rounding them up?) and they dramatically aim for about ten minutes while Tris tries to solve the problem. It’s like when you’re told to hurry in a videogame. They do manage to stay on message with Tris and Four using somewhat lateral thinking to solve the problem, at least.
Also, everyone and everything is too pretty. Tris looks fine when she’s got a ponytail but every chance they get she has it loose to show lovely “windswept” hair that’s perfectly styled into shape and she’s always nice and clean. It’s especially annoying considering that in this version they don’t even have a wall around the bathroom so it’s not like she’s going to be taking long baths all the time, but apparently she’s been conditioning her hair religiously the whole time. The injuries are always attractive scuffing, drops of blood or small scabs. The sexual assault aspect was moved around – nothing during Tris’ assault, but then the camera lingers over her ripped shirt afterward and her fear landscape with Four is him trying to rape her, which doesn’t even make sense if, as the conversation suggests, her fear was really that a Dauntless shouldn’t be nervous about sex rather than fear of the guy who she already had a conversation with about how she’s not ready for sex.