I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy Divergent. It’s not high art by any means but I liked the dystopian future that it set up, I loved Shailene Woodley’s performance as the franchise’s heroine Tris, and I especially enjoyed the sequences where Tris and her fellow members of the Dauntless faction trained together. As far as contemporary film adaptations of young adult novels go, Divergent was one of the better ones. I can’t say that about its sequel, Insurgent. While I still enjoyed Shailene Woodley – I think she’s even better here than in the first one – Insurgent is little more than a convoluted mess of ideas that have been either directly lifted from other better films or completely half baked. It’s a real shame because it actually starts off with a lot of promise before it gradually starts to fall apart.
Insurgent picks up five days after the first film ended. Tris, her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort), boyfriend Four (Theo James), and “not really” friend Peter (Miles Tenner) are in hiding among the Amity faction. Erudite, the faction lead by the sinister Johanna (Kate Winslet), has just slaughtered the governing faction Abnegation and assumed control over Chicago. Manipulating the news to report the story that it was actually the renegade group of divergents who were responsible for the attack on Abnegation, Johanna continues to remain in power. She enlists the help of the Dauntless faction to track down all the known (and unknown) divergents in hopes of using one of them to break the code for a certain box that has been retrieved in one of the destroyed homes. While Tris and her group on the run to avoid getting caught by Dauntless, they attempt to recruit an army comprised of members from the Candor faction as well as the factionless to launch an assault against Erudite. This proves to become more difficult as Johanna soon learns that Tris is the most powerful of all divergents, and this power should be enough to open this box.
The first half of Insurgent jumps from one action scene to the other almost like a sci-fi version of The Fugitive. While we finally get to experience the lifestyle of the remaining two factions – Amity and Candor – these interactions frequently get cut short as Dauntless soldiers storm in and shoot everyone with a small metal device that can control their minds unless they are divergent. Johanna wants whoever is harbouring Tris and her fellow fugitives to turn them over. This plot is just too convoluted to remain interesting, but it is also underdeveloped. Granted, the action scenes are well put together. Everything is framed so you can follow what is happening. There is no “shakicam” and the cuts are paced well enough apart. But the film is too frequently one action sequence after another.
If I could also compare Insurgent to just one film, it would have to be Christopher Nolan’s Inception, which Insurgent blatantly rips off in more ways than just its musical score. Insurgent puts a heavy emphasis on dreams. Tris is suffering from nightmares of her parents’ death and the death of her friend Will, who she killed trying to defend herself in the first film. This has caused her to become more unstable, self-loathing, and more willing to take a life if it’s for the right reasons. But in order to open the box, Johanna requires that a divergent be put into a catatonic state ala Ghost in the Shell and fight through five tests based around the philosophy behind each faction. These tests are completed through the divergent’s dreams. Without giving anything away, Tris undergoes this test and much of the second half of the film is played out in her mind as she fights to overcome objectives in order to go deeper into her dream world and unlock the secrets to opening the box. But unlike Inception, these dream sequences are bland. The computer effects look obviously green screened and no amount of loud, horn blaring music can make these scenes feel unique and fresh. While I haven’t read the novel that this film is based on, it is blatantly obvious that Veronica Roth crammed too many ideas into this sequel and then wanted to make her own version of Inception. As far as the film adaptation goes, there is simply way too much going on in this story that it quickly loses any sense of cohesion or focus. Too many characters, particularly Four’s factionless mother (Naomi Watts), are introduced and then forgotten about. The relationship between Tris and her friend Christina, who was Will’s girlfriend, is brought up and then dropped without resolution. Even the film’s twist ending reminded me too much of Alex Proyas’ Dark City and The Matrix. It’s not only unearned, it’s tacked on almost as an afterthought leaving you completely bewildered as opposed to excited for the next installment.
I like the themes behind Veronica Roth’s novels. The factions Abnegation, Erudite, Dauntless, Amity, and Candor are metaphors for what makes us all human. They respectively stand for Selflessness, Intelligence, Bravery, Peacefulness, and Honesty; in a practical sense, these factions are our government, our scholars, our police, our farmers, and our lawyers. Divergents embody profound strength in all of these areas, and thus, they become metaphors for our own unique individuality. The factionless are those destitute and without a place to call their home, and become metaphors for those in society who need the most help. You can see why such a story would appeal to teenagers, who are at a stage in their lives where they are trying to figure out who they are and where they belong in society. But Insurgent doesn’t develop these ideas any further than Divergent did. Instead, it becomes lost among so many subplots that it forsakes its characters from developing into people you actually care about, and by the time it ends, you don’t feel like you’ve watched a film so much as a pastiche of other better films made by artists who have yet to find their voice.