If there is one thing I judge pretty harshly, it's the differences of things that are changed, and in some cases left out of a book to movie. I'm also an avid Divergent series fangirl, so I felt the need to point out the differences because I think they matter to book readers. Obviously, if you haven't seen the movie this is going to contain a lot of spoilers, that was your one and only warning!
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First, let me start by saying that I enjoyed the movie. It didn't blow me out of the water like I felt when I read the book. Veronica Roth is my writing idol when it comes to creativity and awesome character building. The movie was Eh (shrugs shoulders), mainly because the whole thing seemed to be filmed in a simulation. Something that is only a small part of the book. The best way I can think to explain the differences to you is in chunks so I'm going to do this by key things that stuck out. First, read the official boilerplate to get an idea of what they did in the movie. Then I'll dive right in.
After being exposed as Divergents—people who don’t fit neatly into one of the five societal classifications or “factions”—Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) find themselves on the run from Jeanine (Kate Winslet), the power-hungry leader of the Erudite faction. As the traitorous Dauntless troops under Jeanine’s command prowl the ruins of dystopian Chicago rounding up Divergents, Tris and Four traverse the city hoping to find allies among the Amity, Candor, Abnegation and Dauntless factions—as well as the rebellious and impoverished mass of Factionless. Although heartsick and guilt-ridden over the violent deaths of her family and friends, Tris tries to uncover the secret her parents sacrificed their lives to protect – the very secret that explains why Jeanine will stop at nothing to capture her. Desperate to avoid causing pain to any more of her loved ones, Tris faces her darkest fears in a series of near-impossible challenges as she seeks to unlock the truth about the past, and ultimately the future, of their world.
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He had one line in the movie and it wasn't even relevant to anything other than his son Tobias (Four). In the book, he plays a prominent role in retrieving the “data” that is going to change everything. In the movie, he never leaves Amity. I have huge issues with this simply because of the last few chapters of the book when Tris sets out on a mission to storm Erudite in order to get the data that she is hiding. She aligns herself with him for the greater good despite her relationship with Tobis. Which leads me to the next major change.
In the book, the data is already in the possession of Jeanine and she already knows what it says. In the movie, the data is a box with all of the factions labeled on the outside. The only one that can open it is a 100% Divergent mind. In this case that would be Tris. But, it's not really if you recall, Tris only tested positive for Erudite, Dauntless and Abnegation, not all five factions which this portrays. Not only is it a weird box, it's never been opened by anyone. No one knows what it says or what it means. Not even Jeanine, so she spends the whole movie making Divergent's go through simulations to “unlock” it. Once Tris finally unlocks the box the message plays and it is not her grandmother. At least they don't say she is. At least they stick with the proper message about them being an experiment to help the outside world. The next movie would be hard without that.
After Tris surrenders herself to Erudite to stop the suicides, she spends most of her time in simulations to unlock the different factions of the box. There are a lot of crumbling buildings and falling from roof tops. It got old fast. The main one I want to mention though is the one where Tris has to fight herself. In the book, this happens near the end when she is going through a security system into Jeanine's personal lab. In the movie, it's her way of completing the Amity simulation on the box. The whole point of the simulation testing that Jeanine was doing was to make sure that she could put everyone under a simulation and “reset” the city. She wanted Tris to test different serums (in the book) to see if she could finally control the Divergent and study why their brains were so much different from the others. This is all lost in the movie as the only point is to open the box.
As Caleb and Tris walk through the Factionless compound they act like they have never seen anything like it but they came from Abnegation so they helped clothe and feed them growing up. They also ate at a dinner table with fine china with Four's mother, Evelyn. In the book, they ate out of cans and shared with each other. Something I think is significant in their reason for a Factionless system take over. Which you also don't really see much of in the movie. Aside from a quick look at them stockpiling guns, the Dauntless still seem like the dominant ones to storm Erudite to save Tris and Four. You don't see them take the Dauntless guns in the end or the coup d'état that happens at the end before the data is released.
Four / Tobias
After Four tells Tris that his name is Tobias that is what she calls him. It made their relationship more personal and their bond stronger. In the movie, Tris calls him Four. This is something that bothered me because when Tris called him Four (in the book) he says Don't use my name like a weapon. They also didn't really fight at all in the movie. They fought a lot in the book because Tris took chances that were dangerous and Tobias thought he was going to lose the only thing he ever loved. Which leads to….
Tris is no longer the fearless leader we came to love from the books. She is scared and relies on others to “save her” now. Say what! No, no, no, this is all sorts of wrong. I need the fearless leader that will do anything to stop endless killings of anyone and to find out the truth. She isn't in this movie. Come on Veronica, get your character back!
Peter stole the show. Crazy right? You love to hate him and he was the comic relief that we needed in the movie.
All the other characters
We don't get the meet all the friends from Dauntless like Uriah (not much), Lynn, Maurine, and all the others that play roles that build Tris's character into the fearless leader to protect them. I get movies can only be so long but they spent more time on simulation CGI then the characters, making a lot of the story lost in the special effects. The only character I feel they got right was Caleb. He is still going to break your heart into pieces. Even Christina only got a few lines. They made her unaware of Will's death in the movie making it that much more painful when Tris spilled the beans about killing him during the Candor truth serum. They also made Christina one of the suicide simulation people instead of the one that wakes Tris up to save them.
After the data was broadcast across all the screens in the city, everyone just picked up and started walking to the fence. In the book, the movie ends with them all shouting at one another about the crazy news they just heard. But in the movie, everyone, and I mean EVERYONE (even factionless), beelines it for the gate. Um, how on earth is the next movie going to make any sense now? Because only a small group of people leave the city to see what is beyond Amity. In the book all the factions stay put out of fear, also out of the factionless holding guns on everyone in order to rule the city. The small group has to fight their way out. So I'm anxious to see how they are going to play that off.