After months of hype, the first reviews for Divergent are in... and they aren't good. Despite millions of fans' hopes that the movie version of the YA bestseller would be just as good as the book it's based on, it seems, unfortunately, that that's not the case. Although only a handful of reviews have been released so far, all of them are negative; currently, Divergent has a paltry 17 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes, and as the week continues and more reports come in, it's likely that number will only go down.
The news about Divergent's apparent poor quality is certainly disappointing, and it's also pretty surprising. While there are plenty of YA adaptations that falter critically (remember Mortal Instruments, or Beautiful Creatures?), Divergent seemed like one of the few to have serious potential. It stars a respected actress, is based off an acclaimed series of books, and, judging from the trailer, seemed smarter and stronger than the majority of its dystopian competitors. The film had everything going for it, but if the reviews are to be believed, none of that matters when the end result is only "sporadically entertaining" and a "Frankenstein of stitched-together YA parts." Ouch.
Still, for the true Divergent fan, it's impossible to not at least be curious about the film, even if all reviews say to stay far, far away. Even if it's terrible, it's Divergent; the book it's based on is so good that the thrill of seeing Tris, Four, and the others embodied onscreen, regardless of how well, is enough reason alone to buy a ticket. For those who haven't read the books, seeing Divergent, despite the reviews, might still not be such a bad idea. Four reasons you should give it a shot:
1. Shailene Woodley Deserves a Hit
Lately, everyone's been talking about how Shailene Woodley is going to be a star. The actress has been called everything from "the next Jennifer Lawrence" to a "Hollywood rebel," and as all those who saw The Spectacular Now or The Descendants know, Woodley deserves every bit of the attention. Yet in order for her to get the level of stardom her talent warrants, she needs a bona-fide, non-indie hit — and Divergent, with its huge budget and months of build-up, is the answer. If the movie fails financially, though, then Woodley's chances of super-stardom will be squandered. Let's not let her path be the same as that of Lily Collins or Alex Pettyfer; although both actors managed to salvage their careers after their YA adaptations bombed at the box office, the hype surrounding them was certainly lessened. The enormously talented Woodley doesn't deserve the same fate.
2. The Sequels Will Be Better
It's important not to forget that Divergent, while very good is only the first in a trilogy of the books, and that its sequels, Insurgent and Allegiant, are even better. Both of those installments are substantially stronger than the first book in the series, filled with sharper writing, more exciting plot twists, and necessary background information. Reviews for the film version of Divergent have critiqued the movie's pacing and dialogue, but while the filmmakers are certainly to blame for some of that (see below), much of it is the fault of the source material. If they stay true to the books, then Divergent's upcoming movie sequels should be significantly better than the original.
3. The Director Isn't Returning
Still, as stated above, a good movie requires a good director. Although Neil Burger has a respectable resume (he made the surprisingly good Limitless, among other films), it seems he struggled when it came to adapting Divergent from book to screen. Reviews noted his "struggles to fuse philosophy, awkward romance and brutal action," criticizing his frequent use of close-ups and general "lackluster direction." Burger, however, won't be returning for the sequels due, apparently, to scheduling conflicts, and so Robert Schwentke (Flightplan, Red) will step in, at least for Insurgent. There's no knowing if Schwentke's style will be an improvement over Burger's, but it wouldn't be the first time that a new director greatly improved a franchise's quality.
4. It's a Female-Led Action Movie
When a big movie starring a guy bombs, it's brushed off as a one-time thing, or, in a startlingly high number of cases, has no effect at all on the making of typically even-worse sequels. When a female-led film is bad, though, you can bet on it being the end of that planned franchise's chance of success. Sure, there are a few exceptions here or there (no one wanted those Sex and the City sequels, but hey, we got them anyway), but overall, that's the frustratingly dependable formula for movies starring or made by women. There are so few female-led movies, especially action or sci-fi ones, produced each year anyhow; as women, it's our duty to give the ones that do exist our support. Divergent may not be a masterpiece, but if we want more female-led films in theaters, we have to encourage production studios to give them the green light — and that means buying tickets.