A year ago, Divergent established itself as a middling entry in the ever-growing YA dystopia genre. In spite of a solid young cast with established Oscar-winning actress Kate Winslet in the villain slot, Divergent never really took off as a film. Even a talented cast couldn’t save a dull concept, and the concept of the series – that society has dictated that each human choose one of five paths at a certain age, and those in power will fear someone who can’t be boxed in – is just trite.
So where does that leave the sequel? Somehow, worse than before.
Admittedly, I haven’t read the books, and since these types of films tend to be slavish to their source materials, I can only assume there aren’t any major deviations here. But the single biggest problem I had with Insurgent is how much of it feels like a retread of Divergent, wrapping up loose ends that weren’t handled the first time around. With these young adult trilogies, it doesn’t seem to be uncommon for the second book to repeat some popular elements of the first book. The easiest example is Catching Fire, which found a way to put Katniss and Peeta back in the Hunger Games. But if you’re going to repeat a major element, there has to be something significant to make it worth repeating. Making the opponents in Catching Fire all former victors who thought they’d never have to participate again? Good move.
There’s no such hook to Insurgent. The film opens with Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James), Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and Peter (Miles Teller) in hiding in the Amity faction, while Jeanine (Winslet) is hunting for them after they stopped her plan to eliminate Abnegation. After declaring martial law, Jeanine uses Dauntless soldiers to track down Divergents for Jeanine’s use in an experiment that involves unlocking an artifact discovered in the ruins of Abnegation. To stop Jeanine, Tris and Four must first win over the Factionless and Candor.
It’s telling that the series relies so much on these factions. The concepts seem to be more important than individual characters. The vast majority of the characters are allegiant (hey, that’s the next entry in the series!) to their particular faction. It’s little wonder that Jeanine has an easy time getting her way most of the time. Outside of a handful of individuals, it seems like no one’s willing to question her.
The one character the film tries to explore is its protagonist, but in all honesty, Tris is not that interesting. At the start of the film, there’s some promise. Tris is wracked with guilt over the death of her parents and others, even though her guilt is in reality rather negligible. The guilt translates as PTSD here, but rather than try to build on that, the film is content to let Tris mope around while others, mainly Four, actually get stuff done. She may technically be the protagonist, but she does very little to actually move things forward.
My biggest problem with Insurgent, though, is one that I also felt for Divergent. There’s actually potential with the main bones of the story to create something that may not be at the top of this genre, but it could come close at least. Instead, Insurgent just limps along. And thanks to the popularity of splitting the final book in a series into two films, we have two more years of this dreck to bear.