Tag Archives: Divergent

Failed Critics Podcast: Zootopiatropolisplace

zootropolis

This week’s episode of the Failed Critics Podcast features Callum Petch, returning for the first time in 2016, to join both Steve Norman and Owen Hughes for four new-release reviews.

With the latest entry in the Divergent Series franchise, it seemed almost impossible to record a show without Callum’s input on Allegiant – particularly after his last appearance on the pod the week after the previous instalment, Insurgent, came out! Continuing to play to Callum’s strengths this week, there are two new animated movies out. As if it wasn’t already well set up for him with a new Dreamworks Animation out, Kung Fu Panda 3, there’s also a new Disney film (Zootopia / Zootropolis / whichever it is wherever you’re from) which has already set the standard by which to judge all other movies this year – or, at least, that’s what Callum says.

As well as this, Steve and Callum have a chat about 2008’s monster-movie Cloverfield ahead of the upcoming 10 Cloverfield Lane, whilst Owen reminisces about the 90’s and watching cult comedy Beavis & Butt-Head Do America. In the news this week, we also take a look at the Indiana Jones 5 announcement, Han Solo casting news and the furore over Spider-Man’s cameo in the Civil War trailer.

Join us again next week for our 202nd episode. Yep. We’ve recorded 201 of these things so far. It’s as astonishing to us as I’m sure it is to you too.

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US Box Office Report: 05/06/15 – 07/06/15

America chose… wisely! Spy rules, Entourage drools, Insidious pulls… in crowds, OK, this headline has failed totally, and Other Box Office News.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

I don’t think that I’m exaggerating when I say that this weekend’s box office battle was quite literally between good and evil.  On the side of good: Spy, the best comedy to come along in a year, and one that is quietly yet brilliantly progressive, boasting outstanding performances, and led almost entirely by excellent female comedians who are getting their deserved shots at the limelight.  On the side of evil: Entourage, a piece of pure f*cking garbage, based on pure f*cking garbage, made by and for pure f*cking garbage.  Except for Brooker, he’s alright.  The outcome of this fight would prove seismic, can good movies aimed at a female audience triumph over pure f*cking garbage aimed at dude-bros, humanity’s collective walking pieces of human f*cking garbage?

For once in this miserable cesspool that is humanity, good won out.  Good won out big!  Spy opened in first place with a very respectable $30 million.  Whilst that’s $9 million less than The Heat opened to in 2013, that is a very good number considering that Spy had mediocre to poor trailers and marketing, and had to open against a horror movie and Insidious Chapter 3.  Plus, considering the fact that the comedy landscape is free until Ted 2 at the end of the month, it’s guaranteed decent legs over the coming weeks!  We did it everyone!  We actually did it!  Everything is going to be OK!  It is all going to be O. K!

As for those terrifying journeys into worlds of misery populated by evil spirits who wish to do us all harm, Insidious Chapter 3 ended up the victor in that battle, bringing home a very good $23 million.  That’s admittedly still a very large drop from Chapter 2’s $40 million opening, and it was still very front-loaded, but Chapter 2 wasn’t released in the Summer and had absolutely no competition that weekend.  Besides, a $23 million opening for a horror movie is definitely not something to sniff at.  So I hope you’re all looking forward to being drowned in these apparently-great (?) films for years to come!  I have no idea why I wrote that so sarcastically, I shouldn’t get sniffy at good horror movies doing good business just cos I selfishly want their trailers to stop appearing before films that won’t give me mini-heart attacks due to my major wussiness.

And as for Vinny and the boys?  Well, Entourage blew hot steaming chunks.  And the box office of the film wasn’t so great either.  Over the three day weekend, it could only manage $10 million for a really pathetic $3,000 per-screen average.  “But the film opened on a Wednesday,” I hear you cry!  “Surely those extra two days will have provided an opening worthy of the once proud star of James Cameron’s Aquaman which is apparently a real thing that happens in Entourage at some point?”  Well, keep dreaming, brah, as Entourage’s five-day total stalled out at $17 million, which still left it stuck in fourth place!  The system works!  The terrible disaster movie failed!  Meanwhile, San Andreas took second with a shockingly great 50% drop between weekends.

I can keep making these awful jokes all day, folks.


spy

This Full List wants you to hug it out, bro.

Box Office Results: Friday 5th June 2015 – Sunday 7th June 2015

1] Spy

$30,000,000 / NEW

Saw it again on Friday night with a nice big crowd, which is exactly the way that one should experience a good comedy.  God, this film is so brilliant!  I’m actually tempted to check out Miranda, which has always looked like insufferable tripe to me, thanks to Miranda Hart’s brilliant performance in this.  I’m jealous of Paul Feig’s ability to assemble perfect casts with seemingly little effort, I really am.

2] San Andreas

$26,440,000 / $92,163,000

This is actually going to cross $100 million domestic by next weekend.  Gonna be honest, I did not see that coming at all.  Even after last weekend’s surprisingly great opening, I thought for sure that this would collapse spectacularly after word got out that it was really crap, but I guess Mr. The Rock holds way more sway than even I thought he did.  Of course, next weekend, everyone’s newest crush, Chris Pratt, arrives to take what’s his, so expect San Andreas to take a tumble.

Hang on a minute…  Million dollar idea: buddy-cop movie starring Chris Pratt and Mr. The Rock!  How has this not already been optioned?!  Call me, Hollywood!  I’ll have the script ready for you in a week!

3] Insidious Chapter 3

$23,000,000 / NEW

I will never see these movies.  I don’t hate them or anything like that, I’m just way too much of a wuss for jump-scare horror to ever want to see them.  I prefer my terror to come from constant unsettling wrongness instead of the film equivalent of a song by a bad Pixies imitator.  It’s not for me, and I’m OK with that.  It’s not ruining humanity.

4] Entourage

$10,420,000 / $17,805,000 / NEW

(*buries head in hands and makes strangulated noise of pure disgust*)  I have to see this tonight, and I really am not looking forward to it at all.  I had planned to watch as much of the show as I could have before seeing the film, but I only made it through 4 episodes before tapping out.  I couldn’t do it.  I just couldn’t.  They are all terrible people!  The show is so ragingly sexist it makes Love Actually look like f*cking Thelma & Louise!  There are no dramatic stakes, no actual satire, and no reason to care about any of these raging assholes!  WHY DO PEOPLE LIKE THIS?!

God, I have to follow Spy with this.  That’s like chasing down a delicious Ham and Turkey Subway with a Gin and Tonic comprised of vomit and dick cheese.

5] Mad Max: Fury Road

$7,970,000 / $130,804,000

This will collapse next week when Jurassic World comes a-calling, but it has now doubled its budget worldwide, pretty much guaranteeing an overall profit.  We’re all OK, folks.  We’re all OK.

6] Pitch Perfect 2

$7,700,000 / $160,982,000

There’s the big fall!  This will cross $250 million worldwide this week, and should also pass both The Spongebob Movie and Fifty Shades of Grey to become the fifth highest-grossing film of 2015 domestically by the time we reconvene next week, in any case.  I know that we film critics aren’t supposed to be interested in the business side of things, for whatever reason, but it still does my heart good all the same to see quality films rewarded with large stacks of cash!

7] Tomorrowland

$7,022,000 / $76,236,000

As a possible result of this film failing, Disney has cancelled production on Tron 3, like I needed even more reasons to strongly dislike this bad movie.  I mean, I’m not surprised – I am a legitimate and unironic Tron fan, I am used to disappointment by now – but I am still sad all the same.  Tron: Legacy was fun, dammit!  I need another Daft Punk score in my life, dammit!  YOU NEVER FORMALLY CANCELLED THE EXCELLENT TRON: UPRISING, DISNEY!  AT LEAST BRING THAT BACK!

8] The Avengers: Age of Ultron

$6,201,000 / $438,015,000

Age of Ultron has just passed the last Harry Potter to become the fifth highest grossing film of all-time worldwide.  Got a feeling the superhero boom isn’t going away for a while yet.  In fact, rather than having everyone moan about that again, can we maybe instead direct our ire at a recent glut of films that are actually even more interchangeable and irritating than superhero films?  I am, of course, referring to Young Adult Adaptations.  Yeah.  Why do I have to sit through seven thousand thinkpieces and complaints about comic book movies, yet the Divergents and Maze Runners of this world get by with nary a shrug of the shoulders?  Y’all do know that The Hunger Games existing doesn’t give this mostly-awful subgenre a pass, right?

9] Aloha

$3,300,000 / $16,342,000

Bwahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!!

10] Poltergeist

$2,850,000 / $44,452,000

(*in creepy horror movie child voice*) They’re leaving.

Dropped Out: Far From The Madding Crowd, Hot Pursuit, Home

Callum Petch wants to ride on a white horse.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

US Box Office Report: 3/4/15 – 5/4/15

Furious 7 makes Fast mo-HOLY MOTHER OF CRAP, THAT’S MORE THAN I’LL MAKE IN 11 LIFETIMES, and Other Box Office News.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

OK, let’s see if I still know how to do this…

I think we all expected Furious 7 to do well.  It’s the sequel to a series that has slowly become genuinely beloved as time has marched on, the last one made $97 million opening weekend – no, I have no idea how, and I say that as a fan of these movies – and it’s the last appearance of Paul Walker and, let’s face it, we were all morbidly curious to see how they dealt with it in film.  Oh, yeah, and the film itself is pretty great and stuff.  So, a high debut was pretty much guaranteed.  That didn’t stop me from flinging out the shocked profanity when I saw that it made $67 million on opening day alone.  I mean, $67 million!  That’s more than the GDP of some countries in a year!  In one day!

Furious 7 would close out the weekend with $143 million, officially the ninth best opening weekend ever for a film in America (assuming that actuals don’t drop it by about $800,000).  Undoubtedly the film was kept from ridiculously stupid echelons of money by the fact that it opened on Easter weekend, making Saturday and Sunday totals come in lower than they otherwise could have… but then I remember that $143 million is still ridiculously stupid echelons of money and I go back to just being in awe of that total.  I mean, aren’t you?  And that’s not even mentioning the fact that the film also made $240 million overseas, and that’s not including China as it doesn’t open there until next week.  All that money from a film with a predominately non-white cast.  Y’know, it’s almost like Hollywood could learn something from this but I just don’t know what…

Despite that commanding performance, which we all sort of saw coming from multiple miles away, other films did attempt opening against Furious 7.  They just correctly stuck to limited release.  Best performing of the lot was Woman In Gold, the Weinsteins’ attempt to re-capture that Philomena magic kinda sorta maybe not really – the trailer gave me a lot of Philomena vibes, OK?  On 258 screens, the film managed $2 million overall and actually broke into the chart itself, which isn’t bad at all.  Chinese possibly-comedy – I can find sod all about this film on the Internet – Let’s Get Married did next best with $180,000 from 39 screens, with the Anton Yelchin romantic drama 5 To 7 bringing up the rear but technically doing the best with $19,600 from 2 screens.  Indie films!

Elsewhere, before we get into the real meat of things, despite having collapsed disappointingly in America like a man who talks a big game about his bedding prowess but can only give you a few brief moments of satisfaction, Fifty Shades of Grey is now up to $400 million overseas from people who just don’t know how to quit this terrible movie.  It Follows continues to post relatively strong numbers in its nationwide expansion despite it getting next-to-no-marketing and, unsurprisingly since these are the people who made Ouija a success, being rejected by the general public at large.  Home dropped 47% between weekends but is still making good money, thank the Maker!  And finally, The Gunman dropped out after 2 weeks and nothing of value was lost.


paul walker

This Full List lives its life a quarter-mile at a time.

Box Office Results: Friday 3rd April 2015 – Sunday 5th April 2015

1] Furious 7

$143,623,000 / NEW

My review, for those of you who are interested.  This is going to be a fun week; I have to go on two separate audio outlets and defend this movie against two separate misery guts who wouldn’t know what a fun movie was if it sla- (*remembers that Owen is the head of this site and hastily shuts up*)

2] Home

$27,400,000 / $95,621,000

Home is the first DreamWorks Animation film since Shrek Forever After to be classified as Rotten because critics are unpleasable tits.  Trust me, Home is great.  Mind you, you probably already know that as you’ve likely already seen it, thank the Maker again!  Seriously, even though it’s nothing particularly brilliant, Home being a success makes me really legitimately happy for both DreamWorks’ immediate future and for more diversity in our animated leads.  Seriously, look at this image!  LOOK AT THIS GODDAMN IMAGE!  If your heart doesn’t swell with happiness looking at that, you are basically dead.

3] Get Hard

$12,925,000 / $57,004,000

I did see this last weekend, but I just never got around to reviewing it.  Probably for the best, otherwise you would have read nearly 2,000 words of me insisting that Kevin Hart is actually a really funny guy honest!  Seriously, he is a really funny guy, it’s just that his movies are really bad which makes my opinion come off as deluded for anybody who has only seen his terrible, terrible movies.  Seriously, man.  Pick better films!  Quickly, whilst I still have a chance at convincing people of your talent!

4] Cinderella

$10,289,000 / $167,251,000

Didn’t review this one for one simple reason: I’m getting really self-conscious about the fact that I am a straight white guy writing frequently about women in film.  Even the fact that I consider myself a feminist doesn’t help assuage the guilt and fear that I might be dictating how things should be with my man ways and such, and crowding out female voices which are far more important to this conversation.  Therefore, I point you towards Tasha Robinson of The Dissolve whose thoughts basically line up with mine but are far better expressed than I ever could.

5] The Divergent Series: Insurgent

$10,000,000 / $103,385,000

I was on the Failed Critics Podcast two weeks back where I attempted to explain this stupid, stupid universe to people who either hadn’t seen the movies or couldn’t remember the movies.  It was fun, even though I’m still 80% certain that I am the drunk stepchild that everybody puts up with out of politeness whenever I show up on there.

6] It Follows

$2,465,000 / $8,541,000

I’m looking forward to finally watch this when it hits Blu-Ray.  At home.  With all of the lights on.  And the ability to pause and/or mute the film when it inevitably pushes my nerves beyond breaking point.  Have I ever mentioned that I am really bad when it comes to horror?

7] Woman In Gold

$2,004,000 / NEW

The Voices is available to watch in all good cinemas right now!

8] Kingsman: The Secret Service

$1,700,000 / $122,260,000

With Home about to cross the mark sometime this week, that will make 7 films in the space of just over 3 months that have made $100 million at the domestic box office – 8 if you want to also count American Sniper from last year.  If I hear or see any “The Domestic Box Office Is Dying!” thinkpieces at any point this year, I am going to go f*cking nuclear.  Fair warning.

9] Do You Believe?

$1,500,000 / $9,811,000

…in life after love?  After love?  After love?  After love?

10] The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

$1,000,000 / $30,059,000

Has anybody else seen the trailer for The Lady In The Van yet?  If not, go do so.  It’s not out until November, which clearly means that this is being positioned as one last Best Actress roll call for Maggie Smith, but it looks so off-beat and distinctly and truly British – in the way that films like The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game could only dream of being – that I’m really intrigued by it.  There are still 7 months to go until I can actually see the thing, but I’ve already got a good feeling about it!  I’m optimistic!

Dropped Out: Run All Night, The Gunman

Callum Petch is a man, woman.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

Failed Critics Podcast: Here Comes The Summer

jurassic worldWelcome to this week’s Failed Critics Podcast with Steve Norman once again returning to hosting duties. He’s joined as ever by Owen Hughes, with guests Callum Petch and Mike Shawcross.

Unlike the British summer time, we’re bringing you a podcast that seems to go on forever as the team not only review new releases Princess Kaguya, Spongebob Squarepants: A Sponge Out of Water, The Gunman, The Voices AND Divergent Series: Insurgent (or Divergent 2) (or Divergent: Insurgent) (…or just Insurgent…) but also look ahead to those due for release between June and September with a summer 2015 preview triple bill.

Join us again next as we reach our 150th episode!

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Insurgent

A step-up from Divergent, if nothing else, Insurgent still isn’t compelling or really any good.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

51587.cr2I can remember nothing about Divergent.  I remember that it was terrible and boring, and that a character in it voluntarily calls himself “Four” which makes any scene in which somebody calls out to him resemble that of an overly emotional balloted deli counter, but I don’t remember any specifics about the film.  I couldn’t tell you any character names besides Tris and Four – and, look, I’m sorry, I really did try taking his name seriously this time, but I just can’t, I can’t – I couldn’t tell you any plot points, I couldn’t tell you any personality traits of any of the characters, I couldn’t tell you anything that happened in the finale that, direct quote from my review, “is practically the film ticking off the last free spots on its [genre] bingo card in quick succession”.  Nothing.

That, I think, might be the biggest problem with Divergent.  It’s a bad boring movie, but it is so utterly blandly forgettable that I cannot remember a single damn thing about it besides its bizarrely strong cast and the feeling of having had my time wasted.  It didn’t even have the decency to be interestingly or entertainingly bad, with the exception of the ridiculous and mostly inexplicable nature of the Faction system that its world is based around, because it was too busy blandly cribbing from every single successful, and even some of the non-successful, Young Adult franchise ever in the hopes that money will magically fall from the sky and into the studio and filmmakers’ laps.  Unfortunately for all, it did (sorta) and so now here’s Insurgent, soon to be followed by Allegiant, Parts 1 & 2 because, hey, why not also steal the “unnecessarily split your last book into two separate films for twice the cash money” part too, eh?

Actually, I’m being unnecessarily mean.  If nothing else, Insurgent is a far better movie than Divergent ever was.  Where that movie plodded and dragged onwards with no end in sight, Insurgent moves with some semblance of a pace and clearly builds to a logical end game that doesn’t feel like it takes multiple goddamn days to reach.  The scope expands – which stretches the already thin narrative credibility to beyond breaking point – which managed to keep me somewhat engaged, even whilst the film mostly just loops back on itself constantly, and with the exceptions of Kate Winslet – who was already checked out in the first film and who is acted off the screen by Ansel Elgort in a sentence I never thought I would ever type – and Shailene Woodley – whose patience for this series visibly drains the further into the film we get – the cast is still trying their damndest to make the crap they’re given work.

I mean, it’s still not a good film, I cannot make that more abundantly clear, but it’s not offensively boring, this time.  You know when you’re watching something on TV and you’re not bored but you’re also not completely engaged?  Like, you don’t connect emotionally in the slightest with what’s going on and you’re really not bothered about what happens, but you also have absolutely no urge to change the channel or check your phone excessively or what have you?  That’s the level that Insurgent is operating on, which is at least a step up from Divergent’s mind-numbing boringness, even though it’s got so little going on and is spread so narratively thin that it’s basically the final third of Divergent that was withheld because DOLLA DOLLA BILLS, Y’ALL!!

The big problem, the thing that continues to kill this series the further along it goes because it becomes more and more apparent, with its refusal to even attempt fixing it feeling even more like a deliberate act of pure laziness, is that Insurgent still has no characters.  None of its cast have any definable personalities, nobody goes on any real arc, and most beings (which is the best way that I can describe these lumps of mould) have no consistency at all.  Characters hot-foot between allegiances as the plot demands with no adequate explanation, many characters are excessively angsty for no particular reason, and the finale of the film occurs as if Tris is being told off-camera in-universe that she needs to do something real stupid because otherwise the film won’t have an ending.

It’s all best encompassed by Tris herself, our nominal protagonist, who is less a character and more a blank slate who has a whole bunch of emotional problems that the story’s target audience might have thrown onto her.  Unlike, say, Katniss Everdeen, Tris’ near-total lack of agency, with the exception of maybe two instances late on in the film, has no narrative or thematic reason other than lazy-ass storytelling, that only serves to call attention to the fact that I have no idea what she wants or who she is as a person outside of the plot pushing her forward.  I have spent two films and nearly 4 and a half hours in her company and I still have absolutely no idea what makes her tick or what makes her so special – the film’s constant repetition of “She is the one!  The special one!” feels more and more like attempted indoctrination the further and further on it goes.

She is a cipher, nothing more.  This is especially problematic as the final third of the film, which is where Insurgent’s big and incredibly cheap-looking CG action sequences reside, is all about her working through her emotional baggage, her insecurities and fears.  Not one moment of it resonates, though, because it’s all artificial, conflict thrown onto a character without any true grounding through prior character work or actions.  Tris has survivor’s guilt from the last film but it only manifests when the specific sequence of film calls for it, compared to Katniss’ survivor’s guilt which informs her entire character, ditto her desire to not be Divergent and “special” which literally only comes up in one extremely ham-fisted sequence during the film’s first climax before being unceremoniously punted off-screen.

When a character does manage to make an impression, it’s either down to themselves being the equivalent of Saturday morning cartoon villains – Miles Teller, who is better than Hollywood, has a noticeable blast indulging his inner-Draco Malfoy, whilst Sam Worthington Jai Courtney is well-cast as an entertainingly smug prick that the film shuffles off Stage Left way too early – or the actors and actresses just happening to be actors and actresses who have inexplicably decided that this is where they want to pick up their paycheques for a year or two – notable newcomers this time are Daniel Dae Kim as the leader of Candour, Naomi Watts as the leader of the Factionless and also Four’s long-thought dead mother (because OF COURSE), and Octavia Spencer who is the leader of Amity and is third-billed despite being on-screen for about 428 seconds max.  Otherwise, it’s just people-shaped husks doing stuff that’s apparently important but that I never once truly cared about.

Incidentally, if you’re coming to Insurgent in search of more of that sweet insipid stupidity that powered Divergent, then you will get more than your money’s worth by the finale.  It’s the kind of finale that purports to explain things, specifically why The City is ran in the idiotic faction system and why the Divergents are such a big deal, but doesn’t actually explain anything, instead offering the illusion that answers and explanations are being given whilst actually skirting around everything in favour of a separate reveal that is unbelievably stupid.

It also poses the exact opposite problem of Divergent’s ending: where that left more loose ends than a police corruption investigation headed by a corrupt cop, this one leaves no loose ends.  This is An Ending, in the most definite sense one can manage, where everything is tied up and there is really nothing else to do.  The final shot of the film even does what should have been done in the finale of the first film, for crying out loud!  Like, I do not know where Allegiant could go for barely 2 minutes, let alone two 2 hour films!  I also can’t really say I’m excited by this prospect either cos, well, I really don’t care about any of these non-entities masquerading as characters that I’m supposedly supposed to give a crap about.  So, all we’re really going to be doing is coming back to line Summit Entertainment’s pockets with even more cashola.

Again, I don’t strongly dislike Insurgent.  It’s OK.  In its best moments, I could sit and pretend like I was watching a better Young Adult adaptation or sci-fi film – Teller’s Malfoy impression calling to mind Harry Potter, Tris’ occasional extremely unconvincing (can we launch a Kickstarter to rescue a genuinely miserable-looking Shailene Woodley from this franchise, please) rage against the machine reminding me that Mockingjay, Part 2 is out in just 8 too-long months, the simulations being a bargain-basement Matrix – than this Frankenstein’s Monster of a series, and shaving off 20 minutes and having a clear end goal does wonders for the film’s pacing.  However, the plotting is still a mess, the world is still stupid, and there are still no characters, which makes being emotionally invested in anything that goes on a completely fruitless endeavour.

It’s a baby step forward and nothing more, is what I’m getting at.  Making the presentation less drearily dull without actually fixing the underlying problems that caused that symptom.  The equivalent of putting a child’s Band-Aid over a gaping shotgun wound.  The Divergent Series still has given no adequate reason as to why it should exist, other than to give some studio execs, a seemingly creatively-bankrupt novelist, and otherwise talented actors a nice large steady paycheque for four-or-so years, and Insurgent gives no evidence of that changing any time soon.

But, hey, I wasn’t bored stiff this time.  That’s progress, I guess?

Callum Petch will kiss the ground where you kneel.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 has only one major flaw, and it’s right there in the title.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

mocking jay 3Do you think that The Wachowskis and Quentin Tarantino ever regret splitting up The Matrix 2 and Kill Bill respectively?  I mean, considering what it hath wrought on today’s blockbuster landscape where nothing ends anymore and everything is always building towards a thing that’s being held off until the next film.  Were their various artistic decisions, driven by their split films being stylistically and distinctly different from one another – Kill Bill Vol. 1 being an action packed Asian-influenced martial arts flick and Vol. 2 being a slow-moving character-driven Spaghetti Western, whilst The Matrix Reloaded was the openly philosophical and purposefully cock-teasing one and The Matrix Revolutions was the sh*t one – now solely reduced to green money-shaped lights in hungry movie executives’ eyes?

In this recent wave of films that abuse an audience’s patience in order to swindle them out of more of their hard-earned cash, only Harry Potter has truly gotten it right.  The Deathly Hallows films, overlong as they may be (which is a criticism you can apply to pretty much any Harry Potter film really), had two distinct parts.  Part 1 was the slow-moving character piece, where the growing distance between the core trio was finally addressed head-on and done in such a way that it essentially completed the majority of their character arcs in time for the final film; ending on a solemn, downbeat note that re-enforces stakes and provides a vital character beat to send viewers home with.  Part 2 is the glorious, excessive blow-out party celebrating the franchise’s existence that, quite honestly, it deserved and would have felt weird if it went out any other way.  There’s a clear distinction.

Most films nowadays that do The Split, however, don’t craft two distinct parts.  They don’t use this creative opportunity to tell a story that was simply too in-depth for a standard 2 hour 30 minute runtime, or to create two parts that stylistically and creatively do different things from one another.  They just occur to make some cold hard cash, and the films suffer majorly from the bloat and lack of any real satisfying closure at the end of Part 1.  Twilight did it.  The Hobbit did it.  Divergent is doing it – which amazes me as there was barely enough material in the first frickin’ film.  The Maze Runner is going to do it and you are deluding yourself if you believe otherwise.  And, now, The Hunger Games has done it.

Quite honestly, the Part 1 segment of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 title is the best and worst thing about the film.  See, I have been of the opinion that prior Hunger Games movies are always two-thirds of an outstanding movie, and one-third of a really good but relatively uninteresting movie.  That one-third, surprisingly, has always been the Games part.  They’re not bad, they’re just incredibly perfunctory and uninteresting compared to the non-Games stuff: the propaganda, the class warfare, the media satirising, the emotional state of Katniss who is one of the most dynamic and interesting lead characters I have seen in a franchise in a long while, oppressive governments… all that stuff, and The Games just got in the way of that.

Mockingjay, Part 1 dispenses with them entirely.  Katniss Everdeen’s (Jennifer Lawrence) breaking of the 75th Hunger Games ended up being the spark that lit the powder-keg and now a full-on revolution has broken out in Panem.  The despotic head of The Capital, President Snow (Donald Sutherland), has razed her home, District 12, to the ground, its streets lined with the rotting skeletons of those caught in its bomb blasts, whilst Katniss herself has been “rescued” by District 13, long thought to have disappeared.  Its leader, President Coin (Julianne Moore) with the help of Plutarch Heavensbee (the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman), wants to mould Katniss into a symbol of hope for the revelation, to rally all of the Districts around for a full-scale invasion of The Capital, but Katniss wants absolutely nothing to do with it – only wishing to be reunited with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who has been captured by The Capital to act as the figurehead for their side of the war.

And that is pretty much Mockingjay, Part 1; two hours of moving characters into place for Part 2 where everything will likely pay off with lots of explosions.  That sounds bad on paper, but in actuality this breathing room allows the film to really dig deep into the stuff I mentioned that I loved earlier.  The main thrust of the film comes from Katniss slowly but surely, and even a tinge regretfully, coming into and accepting the role of the symbol of the revolution, but it’s not something she immediately hops on board with – she spends a good stretch of the film just begging to be let out and for them to rescue Peeta so that she and him can just sequester themselves away from the mess she inadvertently caused.

It’s a completely understandable viewpoint, too.  Katniss is basically broken by this point – having been thrown into the Games twice, shoved into the public spotlight and being constantly reminded of the horrors she has unwittingly caused at every turn.  It makes sense that she latches onto Peeta and a desire to run away and just be happy; the poor girl deserves it.  But she can’t, she could never, and the film goes to great lengths to show that her eventual embracing of her position is just as much, if not more so, down to her strength of character when the chips are down as it is the propaganda folk carefully manoeuvring her into position behind-the-scenes.  This means that she flip-flops constantly, but it comes across in a believable way instead of mere padding.

Credit can go to Danny Strong and Peter Craig’s screenplay for this, but the plaudits should mostly be thrown the way of Jennifer Lawrence.  The series is pretty much The Jennifer Lawrence Show anyway, due to the narrative’s hyper-specific focus on Katniss, but such an observation is more of a compliment when you consider just how good she is.  Much of Katniss’ PTSD and completely frazzled emotional state is left as subtext – or possibly been cut for time, I haven’t read the books so I don’t know – but Lawrence hones in on it and just runs with it.  She keeps finding new spins on Katniss’ icy demeanour, her emotional distress, the heartbreak that Katniss suffers whenever The Capital drags up Peeta to, essentially, taunt her that the film never feels like it’s going round in circles.  And when she gets big showy material – like a rousing speech for District 8 that reads as utterly ridiculous on paper – she knocks it out of the park and elevates it significantly.

Mind you, the film is almost stolen out from under her by, who else, Philip Seymour Hoffman who essentially gets to defiantly answer those of us who went “Well, why would you cast the incredible Philip Seymour Hoffman in a role that looks that minor and inconsequential?” in Catching Fire with a firm and defiant “THAT’S why!”  As is the usual case for a lot of his best roles, Hoffman plays Heavensbee very understatedly, as the guy who prefers to blend into the background and say the right things at the right time, rather than openly standing forward and controlling the scene – which is what ends up happening to Hoffman, too.  He commands one’s attention purely by saying the right things at the right time and knowing when to cede the spotlight back to everyone else.  As final performances go, it’s obviously not up there with his turn in A Most Wanted Man from earlier this year – because it’s not trying to be – but it’s the kind of performance that reminds me of just how much talent this guy had and how much of a shame it is that we lost him so soon.

It probably also helps that the propaganda stuff that Plutarch is helping mastermind is the best part of the film by a good country mile.  Action is minimised significantly in Mockingjay, Part 1 which ends up emphasising how important aesthetics and propaganda are to a successful military effort, and the battle of the propaganda between District 13 and The Capital, each represented by one half of the series’ end-game couple for extra dramatic weight, ends up as the thematic thrust of the film.  The scenes of Haymitch, Effie, Plutarch, and Coin brainstorming ways in which to present Katniss as a fitting hero for the revolution – noting her hard-to-like uncut self as deadly in the game of propaganda – carries a lot of parallels towards the modern celebrity PR machine that are especially fitting considering the actress playing Katniss.  Whilst Peeta’s scenes at The Capital, primarily being interviewed in a very leading fashion by Caesar Flickerman, recall similar style interviews on talk shows and such.

It’s that depth – seriously, the film really goes hard for this concept, I’m not doing it justice – thematically that has always made The Hunger Games stand out from the pack and a full film based on that really is as good as it sounds.  Yes, I wish that I got to see more of the actual revolution ongoing in order to better contextualise District 13’s struggle, but that only reinforces how little the actual fighting matters in the game of war and would also take away from Katniss’ story.  Yes, I wish that characters like Effie got a more expanded screen-time to better integrate themselves into the story, but that’s the sort of thing that Part 2 could pay off.  I even found the film to be incredibly well-paced, the two hours just breezing by!

Then, at two hours, Mockingjay, Part 1 stops.mocking jay 5

It just stops.  It smash cuts to credits, shouts “Right, that’s your lot!  Get out!” and then forcibly removes you from the theatre.  There is a cliffhanger, but it’s not a great one.  To put it another way: Catching Fire’s cliffhanger felt like an exclamation point.  The adventures of Katniss Everdeen clearly weren’t done, but the story there clearly was – coming to a halt by following through on President Snow’s promise to destroy her life if she continued to rebel.  It makes sense as a stopping point.  Mockingjay, Part 1’s cliffhanger is like if the author telling you the story had been shot halfway through and you had to wait a year for them to come out of their coma.  Oh, and you need to pay another £10 for the privilege of hearing them finish the story because they conveniently forgot that you already paid them once before.

There’s no closure, no sense that this is where we get off, no satisfaction.  Just blue balls and a whole lot of withholding.  I don’t feel like I’ve seen a full movie, I feel like I’ve seen two-thirds of a movie and somebody’s misplaced the final reel.  It’s especially troubling and irritating because the film that Part 1 is setting Part 2 up to be – a big action blow-out where stuff goes bang – is not the film that I want to see.  It’s the film that I could not be less interested in seeing.  This, quite simply, should have been one three-hour movie.  Cut a few scenes from Part 1, scale down what would be Part 2 into that third hour, and you would have a film that more than likely would have been excellent and a fantastic send-off for the franchise.

Instead, Lionsgate have near-fatally kneecapped The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 to be able to double their goes at the money pump.  I love the film that I have – I really, really do; I think it’s outstanding – but I haven’t got a full film.  I’ve gotten two-thirds of a full film, and that fact is why my dissatisfaction and personal lack of closure is only festering and growing with time.  If Mockingjay, Part 2 does, in fact, have so much quality material and stuff to fill both of the hours that it is going to take up, and pays off everything in this film spectacularly and moves me to tears, then I will take back all of these negative thoughts and worship at the series’ altar.  However, I have the feeling that even a transcendental Part 2 will not make up for a film that’s not finished and a conclusion that

Callum Petch is not in the swing of things yet.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

The Maze Runner

If it weren’t the first in a trilogy, The Maze Runner would be a legitimately great time at the movies.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

maze runner 2Ever since the Harry Potter series made enough money at the box office to buy God five times over, every Hollywood studio has been falling over themselves to find a Young Adult literature series that they can adapt, and franchise the crap out of, of their own.  Some have been giant successes – Twilight, The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Chronicles Of Narnia kinda sorta to a degree.  Others impaled themselves on the first hurdle – The Golden Compass, Eragon, I Am Number Four, last year’s The Mortal Instruments.  Everybody wants in on that pie because getting it right sets you up with a lucrative franchise for the next few years, whilst getting it wrong equates to a loss of chump-change and one can just go right back to the well and try again until they get it right.

The problem isn’t so much that this approach leads to any old crap getting picked up for adaptationing (you can make a good movie out of anything, after all), the problem is that this approach leads to a lot of first instalment films that don’t actually wrap anything up.  Their desire to hook audiences back in for future go-arounds on the money train often leads to majorly unsatisfying endings that can lead to viewers feeling cheated, like they’ve been conned out of a full story.  The Golden Compass did this, Eragon did this, Divergent just did this six months ago…  Notice how it seems to be a trend of the not-good ones?

The Maze Runner is a surprisingly great one, which is what makes its total failure of an ending all the more maddening.  For about 90 of the film’s 113 minutes, this is a tense, well-acted, very exciting, if formulaic science-fiction thriller that surprised the absolute hell out of me.  Unfortunately, its ending, the thing that should have sealed the deal and got me all set for the sequel, is an infuriatingly sloppy and unsatisfying mess that deflates my opinion of the film significantly.  Hell, if the film had just stopped right as it was about to jump off a cliff, like literally just cut to credits with nothing else, I would have preferred that to the ending I got.

Admittedly, I am getting ahead of myself, so let’s focus on the stuff that was good before I have to address the pink elephant.  Our film begins with a young boy (Dylan O’Brien) waking up disoriented in a crate elevator with no memory of anything.  He’s been forcibly sent to a place called The Glade, entirely populated by boys his age and surrounded on all sides by a giant ever-shifting maze that seems inescapable and is home to some very dangerous monsters that patrol it at night after its entrance closes.  The boys, having mostly given up hope of ever escaping, have concocted a strict, regimented, yet fair society, run by a boy called Albi (Aml Ameen), that the new arrival, who eventually remembers his name to be Thomas (the only piece of info the people who put the boys there let them keep), proceeds to threaten due to his curious nature and unending desire to escape.

As you may guess, the film proceeds along with the central mysteries of “how do we escape?” and “who put us here?” but, and this is crucial, the mysteries aren’t what drive the entire film.  Yes, the characters search for both is a central tenant to their actions, but the film is driven by said actions and how they react each other.  That’s what the film is primarily interested in, the characters.  And, yeah, they may be relatively stock and it couldn’t be more obvious which of them would end up siding against Thomas when the chips are down if they wandered around with giant glowing neon signs advertising this fact, but each of them are well-written enough to overcome their stock traits.  There’s one character whose eventual death is telegraphed within about three seconds of their turning up, but they still make an impression beyond that due to above-average writing and Blake Cooper’s very earnest performance.

On that note, performances are of a higher calibre than I’m used to seeing in this sub-genre.  Dylan O’Brien is very able at selling a boy out-of-his-depth and has a likeable enough screen presence that can carry him through the moments where he ends up with a blanker face than is necessary.  Other standouts include Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Jojen from Game Of Thrones, before you ask), who is a very reassuring and warm presence, fitting his character very well, and continuing rising star Will Poulter, who busts out a deep American accent and spends 113 minutes apologising for Plastic with a very convincing and slightly more nuanced performance as the film’s de-facto villain than the script seems willing to give him.

Effects are great, especially so considering the miniscule $34 million price tag – for comparison, Divergent cost $85 million and… didn’t look like it cost $85 million, let’s put it that way.  The maze itself benefits from being predominately shot tightly, amping up the claustrophobia and having the actual design of the segments of the maze be striking enough to make it clear as to where the characters currently are.  The monsters that roam the maze, known as Grievers because all YA books need a whole new vocabulary of their own for some reason, have genuinely disturbing designs that make them look just as unnerving in the day, when the increased light should highlight the lower quality of the CG, as they are shrouded in shadow.  Cleverly, the film also reigns in any desire to go giant with its action sequences, enabling the relatively low budget to remain inconspicuous unless you’re already aware of it.

I realise that this review is really… dry, I think is the word.  Here’s the thing, Maze Runner, before everything goes to hell, doesn’t really do anything new or different.  Again, it is formulaic, the eventual splitting of the community into those who side with Thomas and those who don’t is telegraphed from about the sixth minute of the film at the latest, and the metaphors for adolescence aren’t exactly subtle – Grievers attack by stinging their victim, which causes their body to change, their mind to disintegrate and the victim to become extremely emotional and hos-it’s a metaphor for puberty, alright.  But, and here’s the other thing, none of that really matters, because the film itself is a really bloody good one.

As an example: I was on edge during the entire segment of the film where Thomas inevitably runs into the maze before it closes for the night despite being told not to.  The tightness of the camera, the sparse usage of sound and music (and not heralding the eventual jump scare with the score equivalent of dropping a laptop on a MIDI keyboard set to “Orchestra”), the Grievers being shrouded in shadow enough to keep up the mystery but not so much as to make them murky indecipherable blobs, and also with concern for Thomas himself.  He might have amnesia but, crucially, he still has a personality, a likeable and understandable personality (his desire to escape whilst saving the decent members of The Glade makes him a very accurate audience surrogate), so I was rooting for him to survive the night.  He was obviously going to, the film was only about 30 minutes in by this point and it’s not Psycho, but the scene was still tense and exciting anyway.

That sequence is where it becomes clear that the film has a full-on momentum built up, the kind that can sweep a viewer along to the finish and make the majority of problems seem inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.  The formulaic and rigid adherence to the classic three-act structure do keep it from becoming a truly great film, but they don’t distract from the quality on display.  The tone is very serious and straight-laced, sometimes to a fault, but that means that terrible attempts at humour or mood-undercutting moments don’t interfere.  A lone girl (Kaya Scodelario, who I am very happy to see finally get non-Skins related work) is introduced into The Glade at the hour mark and whilst the film does quite literally nothing with this fantastic idea – her purpose is basically to walk around wearing a giant arrow that screams “I WILL BE IMPORTANT IN THE SEQUEL” – she gets by on the charm of her actress and not being forcefully shoved into a romance arc.

So, the film was going great!  What looked to be the final showdown had wrapped, the climax had basically been reached, and answers were about to be given.  All The Maze Runner had to do was not botch the landing and I could make it my Best Surprise of 2014, slap it with an enthusiastic recommendation and wait with fevered anticipation for the sequel.

Then the ending happened.  I’m not about to divulge spoilers and specifics, don’t panic, but this is the most frustratingly poor ending I have come across in a film all year.  A year, lest we forget, with Need For Speed and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, so you know it has to be a bad ending.  It has a reveal as to the nature of The Glade and the reason why the teenagers were thrown in there that both raises way more questions than it does answers (the kind of reveal that’s used in the middle of the film rather than the end), is the most generic and boring answer that one can think of for the premise, and is delivered in the dullest manner possible.  There’s another final showdown crowbarred in there for almost literally no reason, an atrociously handled sudden death that has all of its possible effect sucked out by its unearned nature (almost like it was thrown in to stem complaints that nobody truly important died during the film), another incredibly obvious and boring reveal, and a final shot that is blatant “COME BACK NEXT YEAR FOR THE THRILLING CONCLUSION!”

Look, there is nothing wrong with sequel teasing and cliffhangers in and of themselves.  The problem comes when they are deployed in the first instalment of something, because then I don’t feel like I’ve gotten a full story.  I feel like I’ve been swindled, that I need to fork over more money in the future to get the second part of what will inevitably turn out to be a quadrilogy.  It may be a decent stopping-place plot-wise, but only one goal has been properly fulfilled and too many questions and events and plots are dropped on me at literally the last minute that I feel like the last 30-or-so minutes were forcibly cut from the film and withheld until the sequel, which is infuriating.  Especially since it’s all done so goddamn sloppily, another reason why the final showdown and its sudden death have no impact and feel so awkward.

That, ultimately, is why I am disappointed with The Maze Runner.  For so much of its runtime, it is a huge surprise and does pretty much everything right.  To see it face-plant so thoroughly, so eagerly, so blatantly on the cusp of the finish line is legitimately aggravating because, dammit, it was this goddamn close!  I visibly went from “Hell, yes!  Bring on the sequel!” to “(*disappointed exasperated groan*)  Well, I guess I’ll watch the sequel cos it’s my job to,” as it went on.  If really disappointing endings to otherwise great films don’t bother you too much, then you’ll likely wonder why I am so worked up about it.  But the ending to The Maze Runner is just so, so bad that it’s tainting my opinion of the rest of the film.  I went in with no expectations and still left disappointed.

This should have been great.  Instead, it’s just disappointingly good.

Callum Petch goes up to Amazonia.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Divergent

DIVERGENTDivergent is two hours and twenty three minutes.  You will feel every last second.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

You know what I miss?  Films with endings.  And I mean proper endings.  Ones where everything is tied up, all of the characters have completed their respective arcs and everyone is in a new status-quo that has a clear direction for the future.  Yeah, sure, you can leave some things open if you want that sequel tease or you could go the ambiguous route but the important part is that there is a sense of finality to proceedings.  That it’s over.  That the film’s world will now go on in this new equilibrium as we leave it, at least for now.  That I can stop being involved in its world and characters if it hasn’t grabbed me because at least it told all the story it needed to tell.

Sadly, thanks to the combined global dominance of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Harry Potter series and Hollywood’s continued learning of the wrong lessons from the both of them, films don’t have endings any more.  They have stopping points.  Cliffhangers.  Unresolved stories that resemble old film serials that would tell you to “Come back next week for the thrilling conclusion!” only ‘next week’ is ‘next year’ and each instalment wastes nearly three hours of your life a go instead of 10 minutes.  Oh, and film serials used to actually wrap-up enough that you could stop watching them without feeling like you’re missing anything major.

As you may have gathered, Divergent doesn’t end so much as it screams in your face “THE EPIC TALE WILL CONTINUE NEXT YEAR, SEE YOU THEN AND MAKE SURE TO BRING MONEY!”  But that’s only where the derivative nature of Divergent begins.  It’s like somebody attempted to scientifically engineer the next big young adult book and film series by stealing from pretty much everything else on the market, following all of the genre conventions and tropes to a tee at all times (the final half hour is practically the film ticking off the last free spots on its bingo card in quick succession), not even trying to hide its high school parallels (to make it more relatable to average and ordinary teenage girls just like you) and with writing and directing and acting that are just decent enough to skirt by without my feeling confident enough to call it outright dreadful, despite it being so, because it’s just too competently made and stars too many people I like doing just good enough of a job to make me label it a total failure.

In other words, they’ve finally done it, ladies, gentlemen and others.  Hollywood and literature have finally found a formula that enables them to print money.

Our story, then; which, by the way, and as an added insult, takes two hours and twenty-three minutes to tell (and does it ever feel like it).  It is the unspecified post-apocalyptic future (because there is no other kind of future) and Chicago thrives among the ruins thanks to a strict faction-based system.  There are the Erudite, who are smart, the Amity, who are peaceful and do absolutely nothing in this movie so feel free to forget they exist, the Candor, who are overly truthful or maybe just can’t tell lies it’s rather unclear, the Abnegation, who are do-gooder-goody selfless types, and the Dauntless, who are action-y and jocky and they free-run everywhere like it’s still 2006.  Or, to put it another way, you have The Nerds, The Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Film-s, The Gossipers, The Politically Active and The Jocks.  No, the high school parallels are not better hidden than that.  Anyways, at age 16, the Chicago inhabitants are forced to take a test that tells them which of those groups they are best suited for and then they get to choose for themselves, with the caveat that they are locked into their chosen faction for life and cannot ever switch or leave or go back to their families if they’re in a separate faction ever, otherwise you become Faction-less, or, in high school terms, That Weirdo Kid Who Doesn’t Associate Themselves With Anyone.

Now, you may be asking yourself, or me if you’d prefer this to be a two-way conversation, “OK, so, why do the undefined masters of this universe make them take the test if they’re just going to let the people choose their own factions anyway?”  That’s a good question and one that I don’t have an answer to because the film doesn’t have one either.  It seems to think that having its lead character openly question the reasoning for this for about five seconds is enough to paper over the mess but they’re wrong.  You may also be asking, “Right, so, why ARE they stuck in this faction system?  Is there somebody ruling over them?”  The answer is no.  There is a government, run by the Abnegation because reasons, but they don’t seem to do anything and it still doesn’t explain how this system came into being in the first place.  It’s not The Hunger Games, is what I’m getting at.  “Sure, so, why is everybody sticking to it despite there clearly being unrest and, in any sane universe, some people who would object to such a strict dictatorial system?”  To ‘keep the peace’, apparently.  “So why has nobody attempted to organise an overthrow of such a system seeing as there is quite literally no reason to keep going along with this?”  Err…

So our heroine is Beatrice (Shailene Woodley, gods-frakkin-dammit) who is an Abnegate but who dreams of becoming a Dauntless, presumably because the people of post-apocalyptia have suddenly found free-running cool again because it’s certainly not down to their personalities (surprise, The Jocks are dicks until you do something awesome enough to earn their respect).  So she takes her test only to find out that she’s Divergent meaning that she doesn’t fit into any one of those categories which therefore makes her the most important threat to the unclear and undefined leaders of this dystopian Chicago.  Forced to hide her true identity, she joins up with the Dauntless and begins her training as one of them whilst the audience waits for something to happen that justifies this being a story worth their time.  And waits.  And waits.  And waits.  And waits.  And waits.  And waits.  And waits.  And waits.  And waits.  And…

Yes, I do believe you have a question, feel free to ask it!  “So, are Divergents rare?”  Yes, apparently so.  So, naturally, most of the people that the newly rechristened Tris cares most about are also Divergent because that’s how surprise plot twists work, duh.  “Why are Divergents a threat, then?”  Because, wait for it, ‘they can’t be controlled’.  “You didn’t answer my question.”  Because they’re a threat to the system.  “But WHY?!”  Because they can’t be controlled.  “Yes, I get that part, but…  OK, who controls the peace?”  The Dauntless.  “OK, that makes sense in a way but I’m going to ask this anyway, why?”  Because they’ve been commanded to.  “By who?”  F*ck if I know.  “So why?”  Because they’ve been commanded to.  “BY WHO?!”  The System, I guess.  “Which is run by…?”  I haven’t got a clue.  “SO WHY IS EVERYBODY STILL STICKING TO THIS IDIOTIC SYSTEM AND WHY ARE DIVERGENTS A THREAT TO ITS PAPER-MACHE CONSTRUCTION?”  …it sounds cool?  “NO IT F*CKING DOESN’T!!

As you may have gathered, this world makes no sense.  Look, I am willing to give films dramatic leeway when it comes to constructing worlds.  I will put my suspension of disbelief on the line for a lot of things (need I remind you of Need For Speed), but there comes a point where I am going to feel insulted by just how much suspension of disbelief I need to enjoy a movie.  Divergent’s world is basically the result of what would happen if the protagonist from The Lonely Island song ‘Threw It On The Ground’ wrote a work of fiction.  I genuinely wouldn’t have been surprised if one of the characters had just suddenly burst out with “You can’t trust the system, MAAAN!!”  It’s all oppressive class structures and regimented social cliques and “your individuality is what makes you so special so don’t worry if you don’t fit into what ‘society’ deems to be acceptable groups” without any of the effort required to make any of it hold up to people who think about the premise for more than five seconds.

And I wouldn’t have spent all that time picking apart the stupid, stupid, stupid nature of the film’s universe if the film had even the slightest grasp of the concept of pacing.  This is a film that is two and twenty-three minutes and you had better believe that I felt every single one of those minutes pass by me.  Fact of the matter is, there is no narrative propulsion to this film.  For two of those hours, I had no idea what the end goal was and I don’t mean that in the way that, say, a great thriller constantly pulls the rug out from under you in a way that you don’t know how it’s going to turn out.  I mean that I literally had no idea, for a good 90 minutes after Tris joins up with the Dauntless, what the film was supposed to be building towards.  Nothing happens, nothing adequately threatens Tris, in all honesty when you think about it… she just trains.

For what, I don’t know.  She trains.  And she falls in love with, and I would like to give you a second to adequately prepare yourself here because I am about to impart to you the stupidest name for a love interest in a film supposedly grounded in some kind of reality of all-time, a boy called Four (Theo James who you may recognise as That Dick James from The Inbetweeners Movie), and vice versa, by virtue of him literally being the only guy who is not a complete and total dick to her at some point.  Other than those two things, nothing happens until the final 20 minutes.  I appreciate a film taking the time out to craft its characters, flesh out its supporting cast so that, when they inevitably bite the bullet for pathos, I actually feel something instead of a burning desire to hold in my urge to go to the bathroom.  However, a good film is capable of doing this whilst keeping the pace up, that’s why you have actual character beats in action scenes instead of just mindless carnage, and Divergent instead just holds off even revealing the end goal until it feels we’ve spent enough time with its cast and/or it’s finished wanking off to its own masterwork.

 

And, if you’ll indulge me the chance to twist the knife a little further, I still didn’t even care about the film’s cast of characters because they can all still be boiled down to their archetype without losing much in the way of anything.  The cast of Divergent is made up of Protagonist, Love Interest, Best Friend, Best Friend Who Betrays Protagonist, Dickhole Drill Instructor Who Turns Out To Be Evil Because Dickhole Are Naturally Evil, Person Who First Finds Out Protagonist’s Secret But Doesn’t Do Anything In This Film (But May Do Something Later), Protagonist’s Mother and Father and Brother (listed in order of importance) and, last and least, Evil Villain Lady Who Is Evil.  None of them are interesting, few are particularly likeable and not a single one of them manages to adequately justify spending nearly two hours in their company whilst waiting for the plot to start.  An infinitely, infinitely better version of this film could have cut an hour out.  A full hour; at least then there’d be enough of a pace going on that my mind wouldn’t be pulling apart the flimsy mechanics of the film’s universe like I’m a godsdamn philosopher.

“But that would cut out all of the characters and character work that will pay off in the sequels!” shouts the, likely, lone Divergent book series fan reading this review.  Maybe so.  Do you know what would happen, though?  STUFF!  Things would happen on-screen!  Events would occur!  Character arcs would actually be completed instead of hanging unresolved, plot threads would have some closure and the whole enterprise would have accomplished something besides wasting two hours and twenty-three minutes of my preciously short life.  Hell, we might have even gotten through some of the second book’s material!  Wouldn’t that have been something?

In all fairness, there is some decent stuff here buried under the stupidity and the snail pacing.  For one, there’s great casting going on here for what little material there is available to everyone.  Shailene Woodley (who, gods-frakkin-dammit, deserves better than this) proves to be an ably capable lead actress who could be the more homely Jennifer Lawrence if the script was willing to help her (because Woodley is trying really, really hard to make this tripe work).  Theo James can smoulder with the best of them, as it turns out, and he too seems more than willing to make this whole venture work if the script would meet him halfway.  Maggie Q gets a couple of monologues that prove that her time spent on Nikita really strengthened up her dramatic chops.  Sam Worthington Jai Courtney (sorry, sorry, I legitimately kept mistaking him for Worthington throughout the film) actually turns in a great performance for once in his miserable career as a complete and total arsehole.  Miles Teller does similarly great work in a similarly thankless role.  Zoë Kravitz is able to strike up a nice friendly chemistry with Woodley for the relatively limited time she’s in the film for.  The weak link is a checked out Kate Winslet and the only reason she sticks out is because she’s the only one who doesn’t seem to be trying to make this crap work.

There are some cool looking mind-space sequences that, admittedly, have been done way better by pretty much every other film ever made that attempts to tackle that subject but, and this is important, stuff happens in them.  They also feature some nice camera tricks and transitions that actually managed to cause my brain to switch back on and take focus for a short while at a time.  Action scenes are competently staged; they still make usage of shaky-cam to hide more physical violence but you can at least tell who’s hitting who and how hurt they are.  Well, until guns come into play in the final 20 minutes and the film desperately attempts to save its 12a rating by becoming a visual mess.  And though the CG is atrocious (to put it another way, I have no idea how this film cost $85 million to make), the cinematography is pretty good, peaking with an early mindscape sequence involving infinite mirrors.

There’s an OK movie buried somewhere inside Divergent.  Not a good one, the crevice of plot holes and inconsistencies in the film’s universe render that near impossible, but one that I’d be OK with recommending if you like this kind of genre.  Unfortunately, the film we have is both bloated and anaemic; way too long and lacking in content to sustain that run-time.  It moves at a pace that’s outclassed by glaciers, features characters with the depth, interest and likability of a sachet of ketchup and it’s so frakkin’ joyless.  There’s an aura of extreme self-seriousness surrounding the film that keeps it from being any fun (I count precisely two gags in the whole film and they both involve a subversion of the “you don’t have what it takes to shoot me” routine) and that makes the act of making it through Divergent feel like an arduous test of endurance.  A slog in all senses of the word.

Maybe the book is better.  I doubt it but, more importantly, I shouldn’t have to find that out.  My enjoyment of a film should not be predicated on my residual love for the source material.  It should stand up in its right and be enjoyable on its own terms; a different way to experience the story, not a substitute for it.  That’s why it’s an adaptation, that’s how these things are supposed to work.  And Divergent has precious little going for it to make it worth your time if you aren’t familiar with the books and just dying to see your favourite characters physically embodied and up on the big screen.  I’ll see you all back here in 12 months’ time to do this dance again.

Callum Petch looked into your eyes and his world came tumbling down.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!