If a young teenager were to start talking to me about their favourite franchises and said they loved Divergent, I would say ‘Great!’ – then try and segue the conversation towards some other dystopian sci-fi young adult franchise that they might also enjoy. The second instalment in the Divergent series picks up right where the last one left off – as most series tend to do. The first film garnered a lukewarm reaction from me, and sadly, the second one feels just as uninspired.
Tris (Shailene Woodley), after losing both her parents in a brutal attack orchestrated by the Erudite faction, is on the run with Four (Theo James) and her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort). Jeanine (Kate Winslet), the leader of Erudite, has laid the blame for the attack that attempted to wipe out the Abnegation faction on Divergents – people like Tris who don’t fit into any one faction, but contain personality elements of all of them. While Tris and Four seek to reunite with the rest of the Dauntless faction who are in hiding, Jeanine seeks to flush out and capture the Divergents, in need of them for her own nefarious purpose. A box left by the founders of this strange society has been found, and only a Divergent can open it…
Where Insurgent slightly improves upon the first film in the series is that it doesn’t waste time in long-winded exposition and back-story. Far too much of the first film was devoted to explaining the faction system and alluding to (but not explaining with any amount of satisfaction) why the Founders decided it would be an excellent idea to cut off Chicago from the rest of the world, split people into five factions based on personality traits, and leave them to their own devices. Insurgent assumes you know all this, and gets straight into the action, which moves along nicely, and coupled with some fairly impressive effects and production design manages to hold some attention. That’s where most of the praise must end.
Shailene Woodley is a skillful actress; she remains impressive, and manages to pack a lot of emotion into some scenes. Tris, however, is simply an uninteresting, cardboard cutout ‘strong female character’. Yes, we need more of those, and I will always applaud them, but there’s nothing original to elevate Tris above all the others. She kicks ass while remaining emotional and feminine. She is born to some kind of destiny. She has a ‘scary boyfriend’ who does ‘scary boyfriend stuff’ (actual lines). When we’re not being bored by Tris and her utterly predictable point A to point B storyline, we’re being confused and annoyed by the supporting characters. Miles Teller’s Peter, who has escaped Jeanine along with Tris at the end of the first film, is an asshole extraordinaire, saddled with the most cringe worthy dialogue. He – and everyone else really – makes maddeningly unfathomable decisions. Ansel Elgort’s Caleb is infuriatingly weak-willed. Octavia Spencer as the leader of the Amity faction could have been a saving grace, but hers is a blink and you’ll mist it appearance.
I can see some what The Divergent Series is trying to do. Behind the poor plotting and unconvincing world there are some interesting ideas it raises about privilege and power in a corrupt and unjust world. Erudite (who value knowledge) believe they know best, without taking into account the lives and wishes of the others, particularly the Factionless – the disadvantaged who have nowhere to go. It’s a shame that the allegories are poorly drawn out, as the film suffers for it. It’s not quite a mess, but it’s a bland, predictable outing that, apart from one or two notable scenes, fails to deliver.