In the increasingly crowded world of young adult fiction, Divergent is a confident if formulaic progression of the genre post-Twilight and Harry Potter. Dan Stephens takes a look…
Divergent proved very popular with audiences keen for more young-adult themed cinema in 2014. Like The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner in recent years, Divergent has emerged as another filler of voids left vacant by the closing tales of the Twilight and Harry Potter sagas. Hollywood has been quick to lock down the novels it feels can appeal to a post-Twilight audience while attracting a whole new one as well along similar themes of adolescence, identity and adult authority.
What we’re seeing are adventure stories set in post-apocalypse societies where a perception of a “perfect” social structure has in fact created a destructive dystopia. Our focus then centres on teenagers, belligerent by both nature and nurture, forced to hit survival mode while seeking their own place in society and finding a bit of romance along the way.
It’s a formula that’s working but it’s a formula nonetheless. Indeed, while Divergent has enough to admire – including its strong female heroine played by a confident Shailene Woodley, some excellent set-pieces, a terrific soundtrack and a crowd-pleasing romantic subplot (involving English heartthrob Theo James) – it doesn’t stand out amongst the crowd. It’s perhaps happier being the latecomer to the party, sitting quietly at the back of the room, ready to engage with anyone willing to make the effort.
But, admittedly, Divergent stormed the box office so it certainly has merit. Undoubtedly, it taps into current popularity for young adult fiction and strong female leads – indeed, while The Hunger Games is an edgier example of the genre, Shailene Woodley more than matches Jennifer Lawrence in the tough girl stakes. I was also very impressed with Dutch multi-instrumentalist Junkie XL’s terrific score for the film which was overseen by the brilliant Hans Zimmer. In addition, as an aside rather than a noteworthy compliment, I admire the casting of Ashley Judd as the mother of Woodley’s character Tris, possibly the most believable – in appearance – mother-daughter casting in years.
Yet, what does Divergent have that The Hunger Games doesn’t. Not much. Their similarities are a mark of the product. In my review of The Hunger Games are likened the film to the kids-on-kids war seen in Battle Royale as well as The Running Man’s satirical TV show-of-death. Divergent, while having much in common with the Jennifer Lawrence-fronted action film, is more pre-watershed Full Metal Jacket with notes of The Omega Man and Escape from New York. Crucially, both follow the path of a young girl in a futuristic dystopia where her prospects, ambitions and potential become suddenly, and dramatically, uncertain. It’s a theme that has universal appeal for a young audience searching for an identity of their own, so it’s easy to see why the film and its ilk have built such a strong fan base.
Written by Dan Stephens
Directed by: Neil Burger
Written by: Evan Daugherty, Vanessa Taylor
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Ashley Judd, Jai Courtney, Ray Stevenson, Zoë Kravitz, Miles Teller, Tony Goldwyn, Maggie Q, Kate Winslet
Released: 2014 / Genre: Actin/Science-Fiction
Country: USA / IMDB
Divergent is currently available to watch RIGHT NOW in the UK on Amazon Prime Instant Video.