Movie Reviews

'Divergent' (2014) Movie Review

A movie so bad it's almost alarming

Divergent movie review
Shailene Woodley and Theo James in Divergent
Photo: Summit Entertainment

I can understand there is a target audience for Divergent. I also expect Veronica Roth's novel from which it's based isn't nearly as awful as its theatrical adaptation, but let's get one thing absolutely straight... Divergent is terrible. There's really no way of getting around it.

I'm sure Roth's readers were able to make sense of the world she created on the page. A world in which a human society in a dystopic future has quarantined themselves from the outside world and divided into factions based on their personality types. I'm sure those same readers will find it easier to digest what is on the screen based on their familiarity with the source material. However, I don't want anyone pretending this movie offers up an explanation for what's taking place that makes sense in any way, shape or form.

Grade: D-

Divergent"Divergent" is a Summit Entertainment release, directed by and is rated PG-13 for intense violence and action, thematic elements and some sensuality. The running time is .

The cast includes , , , , , , , , , , and .

For more information on this film including pictures, trailers and a detailed synopsis .

Divergent centers on Beatrice Prior, played by Shailene Woodley whom I would like to say at the outset gives what may be the absolute best performance I've ever seen from someone working with such shitty material. Screenwriters Evan Daugherty (Snow White and the Huntsman as well as the upcoming G.I. Joe 3 and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) and Vanessa Taylor ("Game of Thrones") stumble their way through setting up the story and never find their footing, introducing one awful character after the next.

The film opens with Beatrice explaining how this society works as the camera moves in and out of what we're told is Chicago. Beatrice and her family belong to the Abnegation faction, which means they are selfless, giving and charitable. The Abnegation faction, due to their selfless nature, also run the government. As for the other factions we have Amity, they are farmers; Candor, they are honest and most often lawyers; Dauntless, they are brave, parkour, West Side Story re-enactors (sans the snapping and singing) that love climbing and jumping; and Erudite, they are the smart ones that sit around typing on computers all day and just being all smart and whatnot. Oh, and then there are the factionless, which is this society's equivalent to homeless people. I know! Ehhhhhhh, amirite?

Given this is the reality of the world the film lives in you're ready to accept it in an effort to see where it's all going. However, I found it impossible to understand a society that not only divides its people into factions based on one character trait, but the people within said factions do nothing but live their life according to that trait without exception.

As far as this movie is concerned, the Abnegation faction does nothing, nothing but charitable work; the Amity just farm from dawn to dusk, sleep and do it all over again the next day; the Erudites sit around being smart and bitching about how they aren't running things and then we soon spend most of our time with the Dauntless faction, which is basically a bunch of knuckleheads punching each other, living in what I can only compare to Zion from The Matrix.

Beatrice becomes our focal point because in this society on your 16th birthday you must choose which faction you will belong to, sort of like the sorting hat in Harry Potter. You can choose the faction you were born to or choose to defect to another faction, but once you've made your choice, that's it! There's no going back. You can go see your family, but even that's frowned upon.

Before choosing their faction, each teen is tested to see what faction they are best suited for, which is where Beatrice learns she has no one dominant trait. Yes, feel free to gasp. Beatrice isn't a robot that wants to only farm, do charity work or climb Ferris wheels. There is more to her, almost like a real human being. The irony of this is that it's called being Divergent and being Divergent is not good. Why? Because "they" said so and "they" will hunt you down and kill you. Who is they? Good question, we can assume it's the Erudites, but considering the Abnegation faction makes the rules, the Amity faction upholds the rules and Dauntless serve as protectors, it's hard to understand just how anyone could get away with killing people just because they have more than one character trait.

Of course, the answer people that have read the book will give you is to say, "Divergents can't be controlled." Problem is, I can't understand who is doing the controlling or why they are allowed to do the controlling. It makes absolutely zero sense and by the time we get around to hour two I was hoping the end would reveal this was a remake of M. Night Shyamalan's The Village and all these people were just living in a strange stupid society with dumb rules, because some idiot set it up that way. Unfortunately, we don't even get that much information as the film closes and we realize this isn't about telling a story, it's about twists and surprises yet to come. With any luck the already-planned sequels won't happen, but this is Hollywood, an industry that thrives on our bad luck as Insurgent is already in the offing.

As I said, Woodley does what she can with the material and Theo James also does a decent job with what he has to work with as Beatrice's inevitable love interest after she defects from Abnegation and heads to the Dauntless faction. One performance, however, cannot be forgiven, that being Jai Courtney as one of the film's antagonists, a Dauntless leader named Eric.

Here's a tip when it comes to creating villains in your stories -- they're one and only character trait can't be that they are an ass hole. Eric, is an ass hole. Nothing more, nothing less. He shows up, he's an ass hole and he keeps that going throughout the entire feature to the point you're dreading his involvement in any future scenes and Courtney proves once again his interpretation of acting is mean-mugging the camera. Though, to be fair, he's hardly given a chance with such a poorly developed character.

Director Neil Burger (The Illusionist, Limitless) is equally complicit, relying heavily on redundant scenes and shots of Woodley training to fight with a strange, "Whack-a-Mole" attack, not to mention some of the worst action scenes I have ever seen in a major motion picture. There's a point a character is given the chance to cry over a dead body for a solid minute before the enemy decides enough is enough and it's time to start shooting again... but only at the wall near her. You know, so she can get away, a cliched narrative technique this film isn't ashamed of abusing over and over again.

I can see how, as a book, this story might have worked as I imagine the characters weren't so thinly drawn and given more to do and talk about than what is required of them by the faction they've chosen. But that doesn't mean anything for the movie.

I'm sure Divergent will end up being a success and pop culture will glom onto that success and each new film will be bigger than the last, but if movies of this quality are all we have to offer the young adult, target audience then there is little else we can do but sigh and pretend it never even happened.

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  • andyluvsfilms

    Your young readers are gonna be seething ;-)

    • Ryguy815


      • andyluvsfilms

        Seethe, Ryan, seethe!!!

    • Corbin

      I'm a young reader, and I aint even mad.

      • andyluvsfilms

        That's a matter of opinion ;-)

  • Driver

    Well, damn. I really like Neil Burger, even love Limitless, and thought this had a chance, but Brad has spoken, and he's usually spot on reviewing this Young Adult Adaptations.

    About what you said about Insurgent, sounds like after The Host and Mortal Instruments, one had to stick. Well here you go. Oh and, why is Jai Courtney still getting roles?

    • kathrynlynn

      haha i like jai courtney! Is he really that bad of an actor? or is it just the roles he's getting that aren't very compelling.

      • Driver

        Lets just say the roles don't help. After Die Hard 5, I just can't stand him, he reminds me of a Sam Worthington light, and that is not good if you ask me.

        • kathrynlynn

          i'm interested to see him in the new terminator

  • disqus_eClptFS30L

    But EW gave it a B+ :)

    • SmartFilm

      EW is a joke.

    • Michael

      And they gave Nymphomaniac Volume 1, an interesting, challenging, well-made film, a D. Why'd they give it a D? Because it isn't a big-budget studio film, and because Lars von Trier is an easy target.

  • Ryguy815

    I'm disappointed that this is getting bad review, but I still can't wait to see it. I' positive that I'm going to like it.

    • IngmarTheBergman

      I'm sorry to hear that.

    • Michael

      Brad seemed positive he'd like American Hustle too, so you never know.

  • GothamCity151

    Based on that review, I am surprised you didn't drop the F on this. It sounds just dreadful.

    • Brad Brevet

      Woodley's performance keeps it above an F... if that means anything. :)

      • Steffen

        Well, a performance which is worth 1,5 grades clearly means something.

        • Captain Omniscient

          That's only a third of a letter grade bump up, not one and a half.

          • Steffen

            So, you mean after D-, there's is only F. So it's A to D and the F for fail, right?. Whatever happened to E :-)? A pity for Mrs Woodley, though. Sorry, I'm not that familiar with the American grading system. Over here we have points (1-15) or numbers (1-6).

            • Captain Omniscient

              In America we try to make things as difficult to understand as possible. You use the metric system which makes a lot more sense than our archaic system; I have no doubt that your grading system makes more sense, too. What you wrote is correct, though. I guess "E" just wasn't cool enough to be included in our grading system.

              • Silrian

                Yeah I really don't get why anyone deviates from IMDb. It's what we use for practically everything here in Holland. 1-10 with a 10 being perfect, can decide if you wanna count halves or go insanely nuanced and use full decimals. 5(.4) or below is a fail (a rotten), but there are graduations of failing, obviously.

                I never truly know for sure what these letter grades mean relatively. Marks out of 10 seems nigh beyond reproach to me.

                I'd think this review translates to a 2.0 out of 10. 1 point above 100% fail because of Woodley.

              • Daniel S

                I believe 'E' is also given for 'Excellent' in the lower grades - and schools thought it would cause confusion.

  • maja

    Excellent. Looking forward to the podcast discussion already - hopefully Laremy has had the pleasure to sit through this.

  • GregDinskisk

    Holy shit... I expected something bad, but... Wow. Good review.

    "Beatrice isn't a robot that wants to only farm, do charity work or climb Ferris wheels."

    That's a fucking great line.

  • Jarret

    Good review. Not looking forward to this.

  • Joao Costa

    Funny joke. That is exactly the twist at the end of Insurgent. I am not joking. I have read the books.

    • Brad Brevet

      Someone that read the books actually told me that after I mentioned the Village comparison. I was stunned, primarily because it sounds like it could actually work, but you can't use it as a plot twist, it has to be a part of the story all along.

      • Joao Costa

        Yeah, probably true, I will see how Allegiant turns out to be. But the books aren't much better than you describe in your review. What you describe is the book. The first book only has the training stuff. The action is in the last few pages only.

        • themoviewatcher

          Allegiant expands that twist and the comparisons to the The Village become even stronger. Anyway, enjoy Allegiant.

  • aroncido

    I have a feeling that nothing will be able to top The Hunger Games as the best YA blockbuster for a long time...

    • Kitty

      I think so too.

  • SmartFilm

    Divergent was like 3 hours of the training sequences from The Hunger Games. The only way to get through it is to take a drink every time someone says, "Dauntless."

  • Captain Omniscient

    I have no interest in seeing this, nor do I have any interest in defending it, but it seems like these YA adaptations get shit on way more than the boring, formulaic comic book garbage that flood the theaters these days. Why is that?

    • literatebrit

      Well I think 2 reasons: There are less of them and people have higher expectations. Thanks to the Harry Potter movies being at worst mediocre, people realize that there can be quality childrens/YA adaptations. Thus they are looking for that next high quality YA phenomenon to be a blockbuster, and when it disappoints, people are surprised.

  • literatebrit

    I'm not surprised...I feel like they could've went "quiet drama" with this as opposed to trying to make it seem action-y. Most of the book was just training and character interaction. But I doubt it'll get a sequel. Once again, this book was nowhere near hte phenomenon that Harry Potter, Twilight or The Hunger Games were. Heck, I think I met more people that read City of Bones than Divergent.

  • Michael

    Guess I'll be skipping this one. Time to start trying to convince people to go see Enemy with me.

  • azjoker1

    Wow. I didn't expect this bad of a review. I expected like a C. I feel that maybe you're too harsh on it because the other reviews have been mixed and most have called it mediocre but not terrible. I will likely see for myself this weekend. I don't care for it much but it seems like so many people will see and I want to see what the hype is about. I hope I like it more than you did. Or it could be awful like you said. I'm going in completely blind. I know nothing other than the plot and what I've seen from the trailers.

  • Baca

    Looks like we can all DIVERT our attention to Nymphomaniac pt. 2 this weekend. HAHAHA. Was really hoping this would get a negative review so I could use that line.

    • Michael

      Oh yeah I almost forgot part 2 is already available on demand, looking forward to it!

  • topyxyz

    Has Jai Courtney ever been in a good film?

    • Kieran

      He had a pretty good presence in Jack Reacher.

  • neon707

    Divergent was an AMAZING book and I don't see why people have to be so rude, yes im talking to the person who wrote the review. You may not like the movie and you are entitled to your own opinion but really do you have to be so mean? What was the point of all that?

    • TheOneWhoKnocks

      I hope you enjoy the film. I don't think that it'll be nearly as bad as Brad is saying, but I also believe that the film appears to contain many elements which have already been explored in much-better works. I have not seen the film, however, so I cannot accurately comment on its quality.

      Some of the best experiences I've had at the cinema were with fan-girls who actually watch the movie, rather than talking over it. They're usually a very respectful crowd. I've had very positive experiences seeing both of the HUNGER GAMES movies in theaters, so I might check this out. But first, I'd like to read the books. I always read the source material before seeing a movie.

      • adelina

        I really like the book and I didn't think this review was mean. If you haven't seen the movie yet, how can you tell if what the reviewer is saying isn't true? Just because you've put the book on a pedestal doesn't mean every else has to as well.

        I'm watching this tomorrow night and while Divergent is by far the strongest book of the trilogy, I'm going for Shailene/Theo and I won't be watching the sequels. Veronica Roth pretty gave up half way through Insurgent and Allegiant was just an awful, ridiculous mess.

        • Brad Brevet

          I've heard that about "Allegiant". Two people told me they couldn't even finish it.

          • Jennifer

            This series was recommended to me because I love Harry Potter and really enjoyed The Hunger Games. The books do not compare at all to these other series in terms of quality. Divergent was a decent read but the others get worse and worse. It was a struggle finishing Allegiant so I imagine the next two films in the series will be worse than this one was. Lets hope they don't split the last book into two films...

        • Wiggity

          Alliegiant was perfect. It explained the entirety of the trilogy and the characters were true to exactly who they were.. Let me guess, you hated it because it didn't give you the Hollywood ending?

        • TheOneWhoKnocks

          "But first, I'd like to read the books. I always read the source material before seeing a movie."

          Haven't read the book.

          I'm guessing this was intended for the original commenter?

  • Josh McLaughlin

    This sounded like something I already wasn't interested in, but I definitely am avoiding this one now.

  • Newbourne

    sigh and pretend it never even happened.

    That's great advice. I always got so upset about films like Transformers and Twilight storming the box office, but now I'm in a new state of mind where I just make believe they don't exist. I'm much happier as a moviegoer.

  • Wiggity

    The movie was missing a few important characters from the book and was missing a lot of character development that is needed to help explain the motivation of Tris and Four; however, if you take the time to read the trilogy, and it sounds like you haven't, you'll see that the movie is a great adaptation of the book. So many of your questions, misconceptions, and misunderstandings in this review are answered and clarified in Allegiant - that's what makes it so good. Also, V. Roth made a fantastic decision to NOT give the trilogy it's 'Hollywood ending."

    So I guess my point it, I think you need to read the trilogy before you really can give a fair review to the movie. If you read the books and still don't like the movie - that's fine.

    (Also, I am not a young reader as mush as I'd like to be still.)

    • Michael

      Movie adaptations have to be able to stand on their own.

      • Wiggity

        It does stand on it's own. The author is just making smart-ass comments about things that he doesn't understand yet. This concept is key to a trilogy, you can't answer everything in the first movie/ book otherwise there is no need for a second or third.

        • Michael

          But if the first movie doesn't make sense on its own, why should we want to see the second or third? If Brad didn't understand certain concepts, it probably means the movie didn't explain them.

          • Wiggity

            That's just it, his review makes it seem like he went into the movie wanting to hate it. He repeats a few things that he doesn't understand, but in reality it's only one concept. The answer to that comes in the third book and it is not essential to the movie that he has this information now.

    • Brad Brevet

      "I think you need to read the trilogy before you really can give a fair review to the movie." Pretty much the description of a bad movie adaptation.

  • robotsrule

    So I guess you didn't really like it...

  • Arthur Carlson

    I didn't read the book. Saw the movie, and yes, a movie should be for more than just people who read the book. I like The Hunger Games films and didn't read the book because they do a great job of world building. This movie didn't. Nothing about the rules of the factions makes any sense. So, if you're smart, that means you're evil. That's not a good message to deliver to kids. Also, if you self-sacrifice, that means you can govern, but the very rules of the factions (fascism) goes against everything that self sacrifice stands for, so does that mean they don't govern. And how is kindness different from self-sacrifice. And it seems a lot of people are divergent since they have other qualities in them than just from the factions. Tris's friends are smart and kind as well as brave. So again, the world is built poorly, and that may be because of a script that just wants to hit the book's plot points instead of you know building a fully believable world.

    Also, the visuals of these movie are pretty bland. Like the scene where Tris rides a zipline over the skyline should've been a scene filled with wonder, since the music was telling me that, but I wouldn't know because it was so darkly lit, I couldn't see much of anything. And the action sequences were terrible. Poorly shot, and making little sense of time and space. And are all female villains now supposed to look like Jodie Foster?

    Funny thing is I went in hoping to like it, much the same way I liked Hunger Games, but man, it was so boring, bland, and poorly pieced together, I entertained myself trying to figure out how this society should actually work, but that bored me after 30 minutes. Too bad, there was still another two hours left to go.

    • seethingteenreader

      About your comment on the zipline scene: I don't think it was so much the sights that was supposed to be so grand, but the fact that she felt like she was flying, and she was free. And the lighting: I mean you have to take into account that it's the middle of the night, and most of the city is in ruins and deserted. I mean, of the four factions that live inside the fence (Amity lives outside the fence at their farms), three of them live inside one giant building. Also, in no way are all the Erudite evil. It just so happens that their leader, Jeanine, is power hungry, and she has accumulated quite a few followers... Also, Amity focuses mostly on peace. Their main priority is to keep the waters calm so war doesn't break out. I do agree, though, that they could have done more in this movie to build the world more fully, and develop characters, and maybe I just don't see some of the issues in this movie because I read the books, which over the course of the series went into great detail in setting up this world.

  • seethingteenreader

    Wow. First off, there's this beautiful thing called this is the first installment of a trilogy. What kind of first installment gives you all the answers?? Then there'd literally be no point in having two more books/movies. Tris clearly states in the beginning that there was a war and the factions system was made to foster peace, if you'd bothered to pay attention. Whereas this may not seem like a sufficient explanation, it's not supposed to! But it's enough for now until a better explanation is given later in the series. Secondly, I'm sick of people saying that Divergent is copying The Hunger Games. Um, no. It's not. It's simply in the same genre. The Hunger Games was no where near the first dystopian, and if you compare it to earlier books in the genre, then you can see that Divergent no more closely resembles Hunger Games than Hunger Games resembles its predecessors. Also, I will be forever baffled by the fact that this is called derivative by critics, while they rave about the fifteenth installment of the X-Men movies, or any other superhero movie. Or every single "hilarious" rendition of the "let's go party and get get drunk and do stupid things and have sex all over the place" movie. Point being that there are other movies that are far closer to every other movie in that genre than Divergent was to The Hunger Games. Now, I do not deny the fact that this movie had its problems, and I do think some of your points are somewhat valid, but it in no way deserves this much flack. ...What has the world come to when something as fluffy and mindless as Twilight is critically acclaimed, and something like this is ripped to pieces...?

    • Brad Brevet

      Is this a cut and paste comment? Because it has nothing to do with my review.

      • seethingteenreader

        Well, you talked about how you didn't understand why the society was set up this way and why without exception they follow their faction's ways and such. And at this point, it's not supposed to fully make sense yet. You're supposed to be wondering why they're like this. But seeing as this is a trilogy, you don't get all the answers until the third book, Allegiant. If we knew all the reasons behind everything in the first installment, then there'd be no point in making it into a trilogy. The second point I made, I guess I just kind of went on a rampage and got a little of topic of your review specifically, and was more of a general a general argument against different things I read. Sorry about that.

    • Michael

      Twilight is critically acclaimed?

    • pissed off old guy

      This movie was terrible. 69 and black friend were horrible actors. Macklemore was horribly placed, and in what world does a 30 year old man make out with a 12 year old blonde.

  • Silrian

    Every time I see that D (for a hollywood movie) I rejoice, because I know it's gonna be a fun podcast.

    I'm not kidding, I'm looking forward to these fail movies now, genuinely, not because I'll ever watch these "movies", but because Brad 'n Laremy tearing shit apart is hilarious.

    I've yet to see Brad reviewing something very negatively (C or below) that in my opinion was at the least descent. I disagree with him plenty of times, but never to an extent where it becomes idiotic. Some lowest common denominators any clear headed person can agree upon. At that point it just becomes a matter of wanting to see them or not, and there's no sensible form of discussion or criticism left at that level.

  • kathrynlynn

    I didn't think Jai Courtney was too much of an issue, I saw him as more of a military role, therefore, he didn't come off as just being an asshole for the sake of being one, but rather just an asshole because that's how he gets people to fall in line. And I think they did a decent enough job of setting up how he and Four have a bit of a rivalry.

    I think the disservice to the film is in the world set up. I think the talent involved was good, a really great supporting cast, and a great lead cast that made some very cheesy lines work the best they could, but the world set up was a bit blah. I don't think you get the weight of what abnegation is or why the erudite are trying to take over. You addressed this in your review, and I felt the same way even though I've read the books. My sister, who hadn't, was a bit confused by all of that.

  • Guest

    I mean, I went into the movie expecting it to be bad. But I came out enjoying it overall. I agree that it had many flaws but I felt they weren't so egregious. I feel like you're kind of criticizing the structure of the society of the world the film presents. I don't think that's enough to give it that bad of a rating.

  • thebioscopist

    I see Lights Camera Jackson, of all people, also agreed with Brad's assessment of the film:

  • anonymous

    I'll give this movie at least a C,I mean it wasn't that bad but it's definitely not good either...somwhere along the lines of acceptable. At least I didn't fell asleep watching it. ehem.

  • Kylie

    I am a teenager and unfortunately much of the YA genre now consists of dystopia futures and poorly written romance novels. Therefore, I have read the books several times and I though the movie was a disgrace, unlike most of the Divergent fandom right now. The events were out of order, the love "scene" was so uncomfortable that I literally shielded my eyes, and they even took out a important character but somehow want to put him in during Insurgent. Also, I like Shailene as an actress but casting her as Tris just made me hate the movie even more. In short, I agree with your review and I am severely disappointed with how they handled it, not that I expected it to be any good in the first place. :/

  • Annabelle

    I just want to point out that many of the things you are saying that, it makes no sense they are not really human, bla bla bla are true, but they are also true in the books, it is all explained in the third book, so I assume that is the case in the movies. The point is that they arn't really human, so let it be.

  • Emily

    This article is pathetic.

  • Movie Bear

    I can't agree with Brad's harsh criticism of this movie and feel that it deserves at least some defense from the avalanche of mean spirited negativity. I mean, this thing has a whopping 40% RT score, so there's gotta be someone else who's willing to stand up for their enjoynment of it!?
    Far from a cinematic or storytelling masterwork, I found the film to be a quite solid and entertaining entry in the YA adventure/thriller genre. One of Brad's stated problems is that he didn't understand how the societal 'faction' system layed out in the film could be believed. But to me, it's no more difficult to understand than, say, a society divided into numbered 'regions' of lemmings who seem to be mindlessly content to give up their very young children for murder entertainment.
    The 'Hunger Games' comaprisons are obvious and definitely fair game, as this is squarely in the same mold and breaks no new ground. But I don't believe that in itself should be a knock against any movie in this genre which already lacks originality. That said I find that this movie more than holds it's own against The Hunger Games movies in many ways. One such example is how well the lead character 'Tris' is developed as a fully intentioned character with understandable emotions, versus the aloofness, and vaguely distant Katniss. Another instance of how this movie improves on HG is how the development of the emotional (romantic) relationship feels much more earnest and believeable than that of Katniss and the poorly developed Peeta.
    One thing we do agree on...the West Side Story-ness of the Dauntless faction taking to the streets early in the film. Both my partner and I got a great chuckle out of that one and happy to see someone else did too!
    Anyway, thanks for the review.

  • eloise

    The film is bloody amazing so go away. We must have been watching different films. Shailene woodley and theo james did an awesome job but i can see the problem with eric. Everything else was awesome

  • pissed off old guy

    Terrible terrible film. I have no idea who the hell writes a script where a 30 year old number makes out with a 12 year old girl.