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Unopinionated: ‘Divergent’ Isn’t Terrible, But that Doesn’t Mean It’s Good.

Divergent terrible good

You’re different. You don’t fit into a category. They can’t control you. They call it Divergent. You can’t let them find out about you. (Tori speaking to Tris).

Every week, readers send me their unpopular opinions, and on Unopinionated, I explain why they’re unpopular in the first place.

From my inbox: “Here’s an unpopular opinion. Divergent is better than Hunger Games. There, I said it.” – Katie

Comparing these two films is obvious, mostly because Lions Gate Entertainment practically begged fans of Hunger Games to show up for their next young adult dystopia franchise in 2014. Based on a best-selling trilogy by Veronica Roth, Divergent is arguably better than the source material, but that’s not saying much.

The premise of Divergent is pretty much where the trouble starts. Years after an apocalyptic event nearly levels the world, a somewhat rebuilt Chicago has become home to a new, simplified caste system unapologetically inconsistent with nouns and adjectives.

The Amity faction is made up of happy farmers who live outside the city, Erudite holds the city’s intellectuals, Candor are honest and determine the law, Abnegation are selfless and drive the government, and Dauntless are the brave soldiers who protect everyone.

The future belongs to those who know where they belong. -Jeanine

Divergent terrible good

All people are born into a faction that characterizes one of these personality traits in which they’re most dominant, and when they come of age, these adolescents can choose to join another faction after taking what amounts to a personality test.

This is all fairly reminiscent of the Sorting Hat in Harry Potter, but while that more mystical and even mysterious element of the Hogwarts house system was more of an aside to the central plot, Divergentattempts to build an entire narrative around how our personalities divide us. While not a bad concept in theory, it’s immediately overwrought by a plot that never moves on from its initial principle, which isn’t even that interesting to begin with.

The main character, Tris (played by Shailene Woodley in her breakout role), craves a life beyond the plain Abnegation, the faction she was born into. She gets her wish when she discovers she’s “divergent,” meaning she fits into too many factions.

In other words, she’s too special because no one gets her. As if.

Don’t try and define me. – Tris

Tris joins Dauntless, much to everyone’s surprise, fueling the only narrative within Divergent that has some meaningful entertainment. A step up from typical High School movies, Tris has to overcome her literal fears in order to survive fitting into a group of young adults she previously had nothing in common with. All while dodging the inconvenience of her status as a divergent, making her a target if the secret gets out.

There are genuine thrills and absorbing moments to be had while watching Tris bond with the recruits and mainstays of the more free-wheeling Dauntless, especially within the commentary of a city trying to rebuild itself with harsher rules and regulations.

Divergent terrible good

But the payoff is too familiar and derivative to contribute anything meaningful to dystopian epics for this age range. Rather than provide something novel to Tris’s character and how she fits into a new world, the film jerks backward to make this about oppressive, authoritarian adults messing up everything.

Having a “chosen one” in any given story is a quick way to ramp up the mediocrity in storytelling. Harry Potter cleverly sidesteps this by shifting focus to how special the villain is, making him an equally important shade of the titular boy wizard. Hunger Games turns this trope on its head by making the “chosen one” special only in the eyes of the masses being manipulated into war, a far more interesting culture point.

Fear does something strange to people like Al. But not you. Fear doesn’t shut you down, it wakes you up. – Four

But Divergent has nothing interesting to give its “chosen one” except that she has too many dominant personality traits. There’s nothing else to Tris’s character that shapes her decisions and struggles to move through the plot. She’s simply special because the script demands it, and this is too obvious for most moviegoers.

On the other hand, it’s not clear that denser lore would have improved anything. The world of Divergent is already stuffed with uninspired naming conventions and quirks that beat the moviegoer over the head with reminders that they’re watching a movie created for kids.

Grade: C+

Fans of the books have plenty to love in Divergent, as it’s a streamlined improvement over the schlock writing that inspired it. And it certainly has some entertaining moments that keep the story moving. But at this point, fans of the genre have plenty of options superior to an empty psychology lecture.


Do you have an unpopular opinion you want challenged? Let me know in the comments and I’ll take it on in a future Unopinionated article. Or you can email nowconspiring@gmail.com

I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni

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Now Conspiring: Movies That Get Better The More We Watch Them

hunger games podcast

This week on the podcast, we review The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2 and discuss all of your latest entertainment news.

Maria hosts this anniversary episode (we’re now a year old!), where we answer your questions from last week and find out the skinny on Adonis’s love life.

QUESTION OF THE WEEK: What’s a movie you didn’t like a lot the first time, but loved the more you watched it?

Go on…Now Conspiring: Movies That Get Better The More We Watch Them

Review: ‘The Hunger Games — Mockingjay, Part 2’

hunger games mockingjay review

Directed by Francis Lawrence, Mockingjay, Part 2 is the fourth and final installment of the The Hunger Games movie franchise, which kicked off in 2012.

I’ve read all three books by Suzanne Collins, but I happen to prefer the film adaptations made by Lionsgate. I think the books were incredibly flawed, both with tone and how certain plot lines lined up. The movies share some of the problems, but they also fix a lot of issues I had with Mockingjay, which was the third and in my opinion, weakest book.

Of course, this is the second half of a two-parter, and certainly the stronger entry compared to last year’s Mockingjay, Part 1. A lot of the complaints I had for that last movie was how painfully slow it was trying to stretch half of a short book into two hours. But if you stuck with MP1, then you’re going to feel satisfaction after MP2, which is pretty much all action and climax.

A lot of things work in MP2 that have worked throughout all of these movies. The locations are beautiful, the camerawork is nearly flawless, and there are brushes of wow-moments and creativity that set this story apart from other dystopia offerings. At this point, Panem feels like a real place with believable characters, and this movie excels with its incredible supporting cast, including the late Philip Seymour Hoffman.

hunger games mockingjay review

But a major weakness in MP2 happens to be the under-utilization of these side characters, who are quite literally brushed to the side in favor of Katniss and her friends. And while I love what Jennifer Lawerence has done with this character overall throughout the series, I can’t help but feel a little underwhelmed with her character’s arc, which is really a criticism toward the books.

In MP2, the story is that Katniss is more of a mythical symbol, rather than a dynamic force who can create real change. And the entire movie is her struggle against the leaders of the rebellion that she can do more than just rally the troops with some propaganda videos. But her singular drive to assassinate Snow eventually becomes tiring, especially as her allies drop like flies, perhaps needlessly.

That’s the point, I suppose. And the highest praise I can give MP2 is how brazen it is with its themes, presenting the rebellion as evil and asking real questions about how war can undermine the good intentions behind a movement. You forget quickly that only two movies ago, the Capitol was perceived as an unstoppable force, mercilessly killing any opposition. By the end of MP2, you’ll wonder what it was all for, and that’s an achievement for a movie aimed at the young adult audience.

hunger games mockingly review

Grade: B+

Paired with Part 1, this is a satisfying conclusion in more ways than one, because it manages to elevate was a disappointing book for many fans like myself. The performances are solid, if not a little underused, and not a moment of it is boring.

For a more in-depth look at this movie, come back this Sunday for the Now Conspiring podcast, where we’ll discuss this and other new releases.

I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni

Hunger Games: Are the Movies Better Than the Books?

hunger games movies books

Welcome to Now Conspiring with Jon and Maria! A podcast where we rant about movies, everything and everything.

This week, we talk Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 and discuss the HG franchise in general. Are the movies better than the books? Or is it the other way around? Even if you’re not in the mood to podcast it up with us, let us know your thoughts in the comments!

Plus, stick around for the end of the show to hear our thoughts on what’s slated for release next week (and which films we think might be worth watching). Enjoy.

Review: ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1’

hunger games mockingjay

As expected, the worst book of a trilogy is, in fact, the worst movie. At least the Part 1 aspect.

Picking up right after the shattering events of Catching Fire, part 1 of the final two installments takes Katniss to her destroyed home in District 12, a not-so-subtle reminder that everything she loved has changed forever. And she’s never getting it back.

Her new set of problems are rightfully different from the ongoing threat of a battle royale with her peers. She’s now thrust into the center of a political revolution, where she’s the strategically ineffective mouthpiece for a war she doesn’t want to be a part of. While not as exciting as her previous obstacles, at least Mockingjay tries to do something new with the character. It’s just unfortunate that watching these politics play out onscreen aren’t much more scintillating than the book its based on.

The filmmakers worked hard to manufacture a climax, but it falls flat as the audience is left wondering why the film was cut in two in the first place. But in the world where sequels double profits, there was no doubt Lionsgate would capitalize. Perhaps marathons with both installments will solve this off-putting interruption.

Even without an actual Hunger Games this time around, Mockingjay: Part 1 has a fair share of action, albeit scattered in varying attempts to capture Katniss’s bravery and compassion on television for the revolutionary masses. This satire of how public relations can skew a war is brilliantly written, though forced to be a little too much of the focus of a movie that needs more going on with its characters, who stare blankly at walls with flashlights for extended scenes.

The parallels between Katniss the character and Jennifer Lawrence the movie star are obvious enough to appreciated, as several logos are shared between both properties (and a great marketing campaign utilizes their symmetry to great effect). Just as Katniss is being exploited to sell a war, Lawrence’s youth and charisma is being exploited by Hollywood to sell a franchise, and it works.

But overall, Mockingjay: Part 1 is a slow adaptation that suffers from being based on what amounts to a rough draft of a book. It still transcends its source material as these movies have consistently done, as they take us out of Katniss’s head and into the lives of other, sometimes richer, characters. Let’s just hope that the final installment is a wrap up worthy of the franchise.

Grade: C+

What is the Best Young Adult Book Movie?

This week on the Agents of FILM podcast, we talk Maze Runner and the future of young adult book adaptations being Hollywood money-makers (or not). Plus we evaluate upcoming movies that will try to be the next Harry Potter/Hunger Games/Twilight.

Maria also talks about her interview with Michelle Monaghan (True Detective), and we go over which films we think you should check out next week.

(On the go? Download the audio podcast here.)

Cool things we mentioned:

Maria’s interview with Michelle Monaghan.
Supergirl confirmed for CBS.
Deadpool movie confirmed for Fox.

Thanks for Reading! You can subscribe to this blog by email via the prompt on the sidebar. Otherwise, be sure to stay connected with me on Twitter (@JonNegroni). I’ll follow you back if you say something witty and awesome.

Review: ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’

When Harry Potter jumped from book to major motion picture, it crossed a cultural threshold that truly shaped the new millennium of not just cinema, but books, television and even theme park rides.

We began to demand for stories rich with lovable characters, epic moments and fantastical settings on a mainstream scale, something that hadn’t really been demanded since Stars Wars.

hunger games

Recall that it was during this era that comic book movies exploded with appeal, and an “impossible” story like The Lord of the Rings captured everyone’s attention. Basically, fantasy was king over the last decade.

Of course, all good things come to an end (that is hopefully as good), and we said goodbye to Harry Potter and his friends toward the end of the 2000s. Since 2008, we’ve been bombarded with more book-movies than ever before, with studios rushing to create the next Twilight franchise of success.

Surprisingly for movie-makers (but not moviegoers), 2013 was not the year that Beautiful CreaturesThe Host or The Mortal Instruments achieved mainstream appeal (for good reason I might add). No, it was the sequel to a movie based on a book that isn’t about vampires, chosen ones, destiny or other fantastical themes. It’s about people.

Go on…Review: ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’

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