Divergent, starring Shailene Woodley and Theo James, has finally hit theaters. Directed by Neil Burger (Limitless), the film adaptation of author Veronica Roth's novel is poised to be a hit supported by a massive marketing campaign. But after the disappointing box office of recent young-adult book-to-film adaptations like Beautiful Creatures and The Mortal Instruments, are the odds ever in Divergent's favor?
After raking in $56 million and taking the No. 1 spot at the box office, it certainly seems like it.
Set in a futuristic dystopian Chicago, 16-year-old Beatrice (Woodley) and her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) must take a test that will help them decide what faction they will join. The test is administered via a hypodermic needle, not a sorting hat. There are five factions: Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Erudite and Dauntless. Beatrice's test is inconclusive, meaning she can't be put in one category.
Beatrice joins Dauntless, renaming herself Tris. Dauntless are the brave young men and women who stare down their own fears to protect the other factions who live behind the wall. (Like that one in Westeros, but more high-tech.) Plus, they wear all black so clearly that's where all the train-hopping cool kids go, right?
As a narrative, the story is much tighter than the original Games. In terms of budget, it's definitely smaller, although since much of the film takes place within the non-descript concrete interiors of Dauntless HQ, it's not a deal breaker.
So how did Divergent catch fire with audiences opening weekend, despite mixed reviews from critics? We have a few theories:
1. The Best YA Heroine Yet: With much respect to Ms. Everdeen, Tris' character arc is very layered. She starts off in Abnegation, the faction that puts the needs of others first, a group she never really fit into. Zip lining down through downtown Chicago while while screaming with joy proves Tris was right when selecting Dauntless. Her change from wallflower to living for the spectacular now feels earned.
2. No Arrows Needed: Both Katniss and Tris have pin-point accuracy when it comes to ranged weapons, but only Tris is brave enough to let hunky Four (James) take aim at her.
3. Better to Be in Four's Company Than Three: One of the most refreshing aspects is the romance: There is no silly love triangle. From the start, Tris and Four seem meant for each other. The getting-to-know-each other scenes work well since Woodley and James ignite onscreen. Jacobs and Gales need not apply.
4. Choose Before It's Too Late: If you could only use Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat which would you choose? We would choose the Candor app to be upfront about everything 24/7.
5. Dystopian Chicago: Setting the story in an actual city as opposed to unclear Districts works. Granted, the budget does reveal one too many CG FX shots over the Windy City. Landmarks like Navy Pier look a tad too Resident Evil with fake debris and wreckage. Still, seeing how Lake Michigan has dried up adds to the isolated feel that roots the film in a shaky (but no shaky cam!) future.
6. Disguised Divergents:. For gamers, being Divergent is akin to cheat codes. So when Tris has to undergo fear simulations while being monitored, she can't just go all X-Men. She has to pretend that the experience is absolutely real, and power through the simulations as a Dauntless would.
7. No Mirrors or Burgers for Abnegation: The beginning is more 1984 more than anything by Suzanne Collins. Tris finds life in abnegation to be a very boring existence. Tris only gets use a mirror when she gets her haircut. Obviously, no selfies.
8. Last Act Too Long: Like pretty most YA films, those last twenty minutes are just too much, which is to say creatively too little. Does every one of these stories have to end with some kind of revolution? We won't go into specifics, but Tris tasked with taking down a machine that will break a spell of sorts is beyond silly.
9. Then Again, Remember The Others? The Nicole Kidman ghost tale had the unfortunate timing of being released shortly after Haley Joel Osment saw dead people first in The Sixth Sense. At the time, audiences felt one twist movie too many. Same can be said for the overabundance of recent YA films. Divergent is one of the better ones, and so far, it looks like the faction flick is coming out on top.