‘Divergent’ Review: A Little ‘Hunger Games,’ a Little ‘Harry Potter,’ a Lot of Dull (Video)

This Frankenstein of stitched-together YA parts never stands on its own two feet, even with Kate Winslet giving full-on Faye Dunaway

The history of pop culture is the history of people appropriating previous ideas to new effect. “West Side Story” didn't just usurp “Romeo and Juliet,” “Romeo and Juliet” borrowed heavily from “Pyramus and Thisbe.” There's nothing new under the sun, granted.

But there's a responsibility to inject some life into the stolen goods — déjà vu is one thing, but déjà vu with boredom on top is more than an audience should be asked to tolerate.

See video: ‘Divergent’ Teaser Features Menacing Kate Winslet, Lots of Romance and Action (Video)

“Divergent” would be forgivable in its flagrant borrowing of ideas, tropes and characters from some of the most popular young-adult fiction of the last 20 years or so if it spun those ideas around, flipped them and gave them a sassy new paint job. As it is, the film (based on the novel by Veronica Roth) jolts around in fits and starts, never sufficiently explains its premise and, yes, rips off far too many notions from better books and movies to stride successfully down its own path.

It's after the apocalypse, and society is desperately attempting to rebuild itself. Inside a fence that's been erected around the ruins of Chicago, humanity has divided itself into five factions: Erudite (the intelligentsia), Amity (ostensibly the kind, but apparently the agrarian), Candor (the honest), Dauntless (the brave) and Abnegation (the charitable). Everyone is tested for their dominant trait and placed in one of the factions, which become that person's new family. (“Factions before blood” is this group's catchy expression.)

See photos: 15 ‘Divergent’ Stills: Kate Winslet, Shailene Woodley, and Theo James in Summit's Sci-Fi Thriller

KATE WINSLET stars in DIVERGENTIf you fit into more than one of them, that's considered disruptive, and you're branded a “Divergent.” And since this is a YA adaptation, you can bet that our heroine is The Specialest Girl in the World: Beatrice (Shailene Woodley) assumes she'll follow in her parents’ Abnegation footsteps, but she envies the way that the Dauntless security forces whoop it up and climb up buildings like the cast of an all-parkour production of “Godspell.”

See video: ‘Divergent’ Star Theo James Does All His Own Fighting in New Behind-The-Scenes Look

Beatrice's test administrator (Maggie Q) keeps it secret that the girl's examination shows her to be eligible for several factions, but on the day of the big Choosing Ceremony, Beatrice opts for Dauntless. Getting to stay in the group involves a great deal of physical challenges — because to be “faction-less” in this world is the worst fate imaginable — and she, now going by “Tris,” must push herself to the limit under the guidance of pouty-lipped trainer Four (Theo James), who of course falls madly in love with her.

Meanwhile, the Erudite, under the leadership of devil-in-a-blue-power-suit Jeanine (Kate Winslet), are planning to remove Abnegation from their role as government leaders with a coup that involves nefarious exploitation of Dauntless’ muscle. As subplots go, none of this manages to be very interesting, but it does allow Winslet to smolder and glare and flare her nostrils in a fashion that would get a thumbs-up from Faye Dunaway.

Also read: ‘Divergent’ Star Shailene Woodley Trashes ‘Twilight's’ Love Story

One big problem with “Divergent” is that its basic five-faction premise doesn't really seem to hold up. If everyone in this world is either a smartypants, a farmer, a lawyer, a cop or a social worker, who built the car that carries Jeanine around? Who takes out the trash? Who makes the color-coded uniforms everyone wears?

See video: ‘Divergent’ Star Shailene Woodley Shocks Jimmy Fallon With Pornographic Horseradish (Video)

There are also issues that have nothing to do with the source material. Director Neil Burger (“Limitless”), working from an adaptation by Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor, spends a lot of time on Tris’ Dauntless training, but surrounds her with a bunch of indistinguishable brunettes. Of the small circle of people we meet in her giant freshman class, there are two girls (one black, played by Zoë Kravitz, and one white and broad-shouldered) and somewhere between three and five look-alike guys; only the one who's played by Miles Teller, Woodley's “The Spectacular Now” co-star, stands apart.

Also read: Box Office: ‘Divergent’ First-Day Ticket Sales Top Original ‘Twilight,’ Fandango Says

That film, incidentally, demonstrated that Woodley is a gifted and empathetic young actress, but with this material, she comes off as fairly generic. You can sense her efforts at imbuing the goings-on (and the by-the-numbers romance with the handsome but stiff James) with some passion, but she's swallowed up by the gray sets and the cobbled-together storyline that forces her to dredge up highlights from “The Hunger Games” and “Harry Potter.”

When Shakespeare rejiggered “Pyramus and Thisbe,” it was 80 or so years after its first translation into English. It's a classier move than stealing from characters whose ink is barely dry on the page.

  • hupto

    Sounds like there should have been a sixth faction: Ennui. ;-)

  • Venus

    Theo's face though. Not gonna lie, I've paid to see that on IMAX

  • Charles_Miller

    Sounds incredibly dull, much too dull to justify the price of admission… Oh, well. Guess it has to be bit torrent CAM version. Again.

    • zem

      Harry potter, hunger games and divergent all stand alone IMO. no matter the similarities. I love all three series equally. For those hating the hunger games, the books to me were amazing and there was never a dull moment. And readingdivergent I felt the same way. This review was awful to read. To really fully understand any book to film, one must do their homework and read the book first.

  • Dani

    Just like a expect. This is sotory is dull as can get. There is no way it would made a good movie. Now this has to make less money than expect so we won't have to put up with for so long.

  • PISSEDINITIATE

    “One big problem with “Divergent” is that its basic five-faction premise
    doesn't really seem to hold up. If everyone in this world is either a
    smartypants, a farmer, a lawyer, a cop or a social worker, who built the
    car that carries Jeanine around? Who takes out the trash? Who makes the
    color-coded uniforms everyone wears?”
    Im sorry, but this pissed me off. Um, the factionless HAVE JOBS!
    maybe they did it.
    heres and idea: ACTUALLY WATCH A MOVIE BEFORE YOU REVIEW IT.
    AND JUST BECAUSE IT IS “SIMILAR” TO THAT PEICE OF SHIT CALLED THE HUNGER GAMES, WELL…

    ITS FUCKING NOT

    GO FUCKING DIE.

    • TJW

      u mad

    • Boy101

      Ummm if he couldnt tell it clearly from the movie then its the movies fault not his. Calm down its not the end of the world.

      • Zepaw

        The trouble is the movie shouldn't say because the book doesn't. These things are mysteries until the later books at which time they actually do have a real reason.

    • Jonas Grumby

      Child.

    • Day_is_Over

      But everyone must fit into one of the factions don't they?

      • zack

        No, because there are still initiations into the factions. If someone fails the initiation, they become “factionless”.

    • girlonfire

      Hunger games has far better reviews and premise. Telling someone to “fucking die” makes no sense and lacks intelligence. You're basically telling them to leave while having sex and then stop breathing.

    • Emmy

      Let me tell you… I am taking writing classes right now and the reviewer makes a good point about “who takes out the trash?” When you build a world likes this, you must pay attention to every aspect of it to form a respectable story. Ex: the trash question is reasonable because if everyone's in factions, how does this world even revolve without people to do the most simple things that we don't even think about (think electricity, plumbing, etc.) Those are what you call plotholes and it shows that the writing was underdeveloped. No need act this way. If the reviewer could not understand the premise from the movie then the movie is simply bad. You should not have to read the books to understand the movie, a good film should stand on its own.

      • nanirose

        The book did explain who did the menial jobs. Those who failed at their factions join the factionless (spelling…) and perform those tasks.

        • Emmy

          What's the point of “factions” anyway? I was never in to dystopian YA fiction. Once you learn to write properly, it because difficult to read these kinds of things. These jobs aren't menial though, the people in charge of electrical companies would be rich as hell, what about oil? There are so many parameters that poke holes in this story.

          • Vanlan

            The factions are a creation of the Nazi rulers of the United states to control the unpure. (I'm not joking)

  • njfsa

    The factionless do the other stuff..

    • Day_is_Over

      Factionless? The divergents? God this is the dumbest premise I've ever seen.

      • Pandagirl Kawaii

        No. The factionless are the people who fail initiation.

  • Emma Jones

    Based on this review, I have no idea what the movie is like. All you did was throw out hate. You never backed up any of your criticism.

    • Bart

      if you can't make sense of the movie in this review probably because the critic didn't get what it is all about from the movie itself either. Critics call it as it is, if they hated the film, they hated the film.

    • Emmy

      Neither do I for the matter. The movie makes no sense, especially for those who have not read the books. Shailene is talented though.

  • Haribol

    I'm not at all surprised.
    ENOUGH IF THIS NONSENSICAL SILLY TV SHOWS MADE FOR CINEMA SHOWING!!!

  • Anon

    In what way, shape or form is this like Harry Potter? In my opinion, having read all the books and seen the movies that are out, this isn't all that much like Hunger Games either except for the dystopian future (which isn't unique in itself) and the young, female heroine. I'd love to read some reviews that talk about THIS film, not this compared to every other so called “young adult” movie in the past 10 years. To borrow a phrase, your review was a lot of dull.

    • http://iluvmormonvampires.tumblr.com/ iluvmormonvampires

      the factions are totally like Hogwarts houses

      • bradical89

        The factions also sound like The Hunger Games.

        District 1 makes luxury items.
        District 2 makes masonry, trains, weapons.
        District 3 electronics.
        District 4 fishing.
        etc. etc. etc.

        • Prince

          the factions are based on personatily, and talent also you pick your own not stay in the one your forced. Also none is richer/better or fighting against the other

          • Boy101

            So Sorting hat but with ( a bit of ) choice? This author is the shining beacon of her generation!

  • Jackie

    Firstly, the Divergent series is way better than The Hunger Games. Mockingjay was the most boring book ever. They may make something out of the films but the book was a lost cause and Hunger Games was not much better. The best film and book of the series was Catching Fire. All Katniss does in MJ is run around the capital hiding out. It's stupid. Once you loose Finnick, the book loses interest.

    Divergent is a much better book. Also note that dividing societies into sections was not invented by Harry Potter…just say'in. Also HP are not YA books. They're found in the Children's section of the book store. If they moved them over is only because of Deathly Hallows which still is not a YA type book.

    Your review of Divergent makes no sense. None. Children are not killing each other to survive and there are no wizards. As I said before, having factions or separate societies was not invente by JK Rowling. Hunger Games has Districts too.

    Every story in Hollywood is a “rip-off” of something. Nothing is unique to itself. It's unique as to how the story is told that's all.

    It's one thing if there's bad acting, a bad script, bad editing, bad directing etc…. but to say that this story is like something else is just a bogus review. It's not. It has its own characters and characteristics. I'm glad I'm not basing my movie going on this half-ass review.

    Got my ticket. Will decide for myself. One thing is for sure, the Divergent books are so much better than the Hunger Games books and that's a fact.

    • Madison J.

      Mockingjay is a very realistic book that shows you the consequences of war and how it can effect someone. I hate how people just say that Katniss is just depress throughout the whole book. If I had gone through all of the crap she has been through, and all of the stuff she has been through by the end of the book I would be a little crazy to. Mockingjay is my least favorite of the whole series, but I think it is very good at getting the point across in the book.

    • bradical89

      “and that's a fact.”

      Yikes, somebody doesn't know what a fact is!

    • Zack

      “the Divergent books are so much better than the Hunger Games books and that's a fact.”
      :( No, it's an opinion.

      • Matt

        OPINION, not fact!!! Thanks for making that comment. God, now because everyone is in love with Four and Tris they say bad things about previous series they used to love. Like it or not, THG will always have more success than Divergent.

    • Vanlan

      In a dystopian, post apocalyptic world, people are divided up into different districts based on what caused the conflict originally. Once reaching a given age, children must put on the sorting hat and be told what of the five elements of harmony they are and what house they should join, Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, hufflepuff, Gray Aja, or Jenn Aiel. Then comes the sorting ceremony where the tributes get drawn out of the sorting hat and make a melodramatic display. After choosing Griffindor Catnis finds out she is the chosen one and learns Kung Fu. Surviving the first of the tri-wizard events, she is then forced to face Bogarts in the matrix, where she discovers there is no spoon and bends the matrix to her will. She gains so many points from this that she passes Viktor Krum in the standings and is in first place. The third event repeats the second event, only with more bogarts. It seems she might have won the triwizard tournament, but before she can collect her winnings, Lord Voldemort of Ravenclaw house puts the imperious charm on everyone and forces them to attack the Jenn Aiel, since you need a dedicated, mind controlled army to fight ardent pacifists. (The reason why keeps changing depending on what book your on, slowly making less and less sense.) But Catnis potter is able to fight off the imperious curse, forced to survive and use her bow to kill other kids. Lord Voldemort causes the death of both her parents, but she is the girl who lived (or at least will be in the next book) and manages to break Lord Voldemorts magic wand, freeing everyone.

    • angie

      seriously, you have horrible taste then
      The Hunger Games books has many themes, like the consequences of war aka PSTD , the oppressive totalitarian government, the gulf between the rich and poor districts, the theme of family, love, sacrifice etc
      I don't even know what Divergent is about apart the girl live in a society where she suddenly gets bored and thinks she is special or something and people are divided into factions based on their personalities which is pretty ridiculous if you really think about it, people in general are not black and white and have different facets to their personality so i don't even get how they get divided into factions.

  • Elsa

    “When Shakespeare rejiggered “Pyramus and Thisbe,” it was 80 or so years after its first translation into English. It's a classier move than stealing from characters whose ink is barely dry on the page.”

    thank you, someone finally said it. Divergent is all hype and none the substance.

    • kate

      When Shakespeare rewrote an Italian play (as many playwrights did during a time when originality wasn't prized as highly as it is today) and came up with Romeo and Juliet (which had essentially the same plot but more poetic structure and language) he didn't wait for 80 years to pass since the original was either first performed or first translated. Not that I'm defending Divergent. I'm just making a point about Shakespeare.

  • Darith L.

    I don't see how a post-apocalyptic movie is similar to Harry Potter. Did you watch the right film?

  • gia manry

    Sounds to me like they were pretty faithful to the book- it was also pretty messy, especially about explaining how such a ridiculous society would function. As I recall, it was because they were trying to save a “Big Revelation” for the second book, leaving the first perplexing. But even if the second (and third) books made slightly more sense, they were still pretty mediocre, as I recall.

    • Day_is_Over

      Yeah…a big revelation that she stole from The Village. Does this author have any original ideas of her own?

      • Pandagirl Kawaii

        She got the book idea from college, when she was studying psychology, and how if your exposed to your fear over and over again, then you wouldn't be scared of it. This is the fear simulations in Dauntless (the brave faction) and then she created the world. It is unique; and creative. Try building up your own story.

        • Day_is_Over

          I've created more original plots in my toilet.

      • Vanlan

        Ya, but she changed it to The Truman Show in the 3rd book.

    • diana

      And on top of that, Tris dies a mindless death in Allegiant, a downer and ill-fitting end to the Trilogy, another stupid writing from Veronica Roth. Not gonna watch the movie and waste more of my time and $$$….the books are enough.

  • Day_is_Over

    I knew it. A dull generic boring mess. Pass.

    • Pandagirl Kawaii

      It's not generic. The story is unique, you would be surprised. Don't judge a book by it's movie.

      • Vanlan

        I've listened to all 3 books. It is a generic boring mess. I could deal with that, but Veronica Roth is also a terrible writer. My god, the number of terrible similes made it very difficult to slog all the way through.

        • Pandagirl Kawaii

          Why would you listen to all three, if you thought that the first one was a dull generic boring mess? Have your opinion, but for me, I hate audiobooks. They dont have any emotion whatsoever and you dont get much imagery out of it if your not actually physically reading the books. Seriously. My principle likes the series.

          • Vanlan

            I prefer listening and had nothing better to listen to at the time. I listen to A LOT of books and burn through them fast, so I'm always on the hunt for something new. Usually the reader isn't an issue (The reader of the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series was terrible, but The Heroes of Olympus series was fine.), and Emma Galvin was fine. The writing and world building here was just painful, and I have a high threshold for pain, I made it through 5 Xanth books.

        • Jane

          I'm certain she wrote Allegiant with a “Big Book Of Similes And Metaphors” handbook by her side. Good grief, that book would make a writing teacher weep.

          • Day_is_Over

            My guess…the last book is normally when the author has the MOST deadlines and when the publisher cares the least about actual quality. They just want the sales from the built up fan base.

            The first book is always the best cause that's the one you usually work the hardest and longest on.

            See also…breaking dawn.

  • Divergent

    Alonso is one of my fav critics so I trust him. Still, I think I'll enjoy this movie far more than he did because I read the series. Some of the questions he has about how the society operates are clearly detailed in the novel. I read the Hunger Games series and Divergent and while there are obvious similarities, I preferred Divergent. The first book is slow (too many actions scenes, as Alonso mentions about the film) but the second and third are great. Really all I care about is that this movie series is satisfying for fans of the book series – hopefully it is!

    • Jane

      “Some of the questions he has about how the society operates are clearly detailed in the novel.”

      I think this is the problem with the very high-concept nature of the premise. It only makes sense — the very little it does — if you read the book and get all the little details, but unless you include every one of those details in the movie the movie won't make a whole lot of sense.

  • Vanlan

    It really is Hunger Games without the intelligence, heart, originality or coherence. The first really wants to be Hunger Games + Harry Potter, with a little bit of Matrix thrown in. The second added some Shyamalan to the mix for some reason. The third tries to fix the issues with the first two and some how makes it worse.

  • Anony-mouse

    Sounds like they followed the book to the letter – a lot of trying to overcome nothing whilst staring at the eyes or nipples of some fella named Four. Characters so insignificant that even they're deaths don't effect you and then a bit of action and excitement just before the end to try and convince you that the next one will be awesome.

  • Prince

    the whole story isn't explained in the first installment. It comes in parts, the clothes and cars are explained as the story develops. As you stated it takes place in An isolated Chicago, so of course there must be an outside. Much like other dystopians you don't find out the whole back round story till later installments. The movie is aimed/targeted at teens who have read the book and of course not everything is explained after you read the first book that's why there a three same with the movie.

    • Jane

      Well, that was a flaw in the way the books were written, because the author herself did not figure out the explanation until the very end. The series wasn't really written in a proper “setup” kind of way, so the story in the first book seems particularly … incomplete? It's fine for a story to reveal secrets and truths as the series goes on, but it's not really good to wait until part three to go “Oh, yeah, by the way, this is what the point of the story was the whole time.” That's pretty much what Roth did with Allegiant. The first book was oddly “pointless” in the how's and why's and apparently that aspect transferred to the movie. I think the movies’ fatal flaw will be following the plotline of the books too closely, because while the series had an awesome concept and great ideas, the plotlines were not executed all that well.

  • Rachel

    I just have to say that maybe if you had taken the time to educate yourself about the books first many of your silly questions would've been answered. The factionless make all those things you mentioned. For one. And second how on earth does this relate to harry potter. I know both those books and movies indeed and out and I see no connection.

    • Jane

      I think the point is that you shouldn't have to “educate yourself” before watching a movie in order to understand the movie. The movie should unfold in a way that it explains enough of its premise for you to get the story, even if you hadn't already read the books or know anything about them.

      The Harry Potter connection, I assume, is drawing a correlation between the aptitude tests and the Sorting Hat, that's all.

  • BrendaStar

    The only interesting nugget about this film came from another review which said Kate Winslet was close to doing a Hillary Clinton impersonation In her role. I would almost pay to see that. Almost, because Shailene Woodley, attacked Bella in Twilight. Let's see Shailene portrays a 16 year old? Her love interest in this film is a 29 yr old actor who plays her instructor. I read on the internet he is supposed to be 18. Sounds a bit toxic to me. Oh what a message. Why not teens representing teens for a start.

    • Day_is_Over

      From the trailer this does seem just as toxic. Having your would-be boyfriend throw a knife at you is NOT sexy. This once again plays into “omg he can almost kill me how hot is that?” bullspit that she said was TOXIC about Twilight.

      Well this is just as stupid and toxic.

  • Steph

    The Factionless are the garbage men, bus drivers, and other manual laborers in this community. It's explained fairly clearly in the book.

    • Jane

      I think that's the point. If something is not made clear in the movie, if you have to read the book in order to understand, then the movie didn't do a good job of translating the story.

  • Matt

    One more movie for readers. I read the books and didn't like them. I'm a bookworm and a YA author. Dear directors, if you're adapting a book, make the non-reader audience understand the plot. I do understand critics and people who haven't read these books if they find it crazy and they say it's bad. Fangirls will be mad because of the bad reviews. And sorry for saying this, they don't want to be compared with THG but the beginning of the Divergent trailer is like Katniss getting ready for Reaping Day all over again. Sorry not sorry.

  • Zepaw

    I liked, but never quite loved, the book series. Enough so that I'll check out the movie. From the previews though it looks impossibly cheap. Books 1 & 2 were mostly dull but 3 actually brought it together pretty well. I will be interested in that one (assuming its made).

  • Hannah Blank

    You guy have no idea how hard shes worked on Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant. She didnt just cheat three novel off of other movies/books

  • Punkandglamour

    facepalm. The factionless make all the cars, take out the trash and do all the shit jobs. That's sort of why they hate being factionless and why no one wants to be sent there. To the shittiest part of town and do all the crap jobs. I'll be a little upset if they don't explain that in the movie.