Despite all the fuss, 'Divergent' failed to win over the critics. What went wrong?
There’s been a whole lot of hype surrounding Shailene Woodley and Theo James’ new movie Divergent, although sadly critics haven’t responded as well as had been expected. It seems like every other film that comes out at the moment is based on the hottest young-adult novels, each with a cult following that no one over the age of 19 knew existed until it becomes impossible to avoid movie’s promotion. Harry Potter, Twilight and The Hunger Games all surfaced in succession, each of them individually impacting a generation. In a time with so many great movies aimed at young adults to be successful you really have to stand apart from the crowd.
Critics were impressed with Shailene Woodley, but not with the Divergent plot
It seems that Divergent just doesn’t manage this. Jocelyn Noveck from CTV News puts her finger on it, “‘Divergent’ doesn’t diverge enough from the pack.” To rival The Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen you’re going to have to pull something quite extraordinary out of the bag, and it seems that Divergent, ironically, is too much of the same old to make any kind of new impact. Noveck may feel that the movie fails to deliver plot-wise, but she praises the leading lady, “emerging young star Shailene Woodley delivers a crucial dose of humility, sensitivity and intelligence in this showcase role”. Theo James doesn’t go unnoticed, although it’s as Woodley’s “absurdly good-looking co-star” that he’s noted.
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Other critics seem to follow Noveck’s train of though, Linda Banard from the Toronto Star remarked, “Woodley is an obviously talented actress, a standout in The Descendents and The Spectacular Now but she’s let down by the story surrounding her [in ‘Divergent’].” Chris Sawin from Examiner.com surmised, “‘Divergent’ isn’t ambitious enough to be good and it isn’t outlandish enough to be bad. ‘Divergent’ feels like nothing more than a lite version of ‘The Hunger Games’”. Ouch.
We can see where the critics are coming from, perhaps if Divergent had been released a few years down the line when The Hunger Games hype had died down it would have faired a little better. As it is it seems like unfortunate timing has worked against its favour. Any dystopian stories with a strong female lead run the risk of coming up against The Hunger Games and it has to be said that they should probably just not even bother, unless they have something really different to offer up.
Later this year The Maze Runner starring Dylan O’Brien will be released. The Maze Runner is another movie based on a young adult novel, although the protagonist is male. Perhaps it’s a little wiser as this way it may draw less comparison to The Hunger Games and be appreciated as a film in its right.