Movie Review: The Divergent Series: Insurgent


I enjoyed the first movie in this series, Divergent. Based on the first novel in Veronica Roth’s dystopian YA series, it boasted good casting, energetic direction by Neil Burger, creative envisioning of Chicago after an apocalypse, and a tight screenplay. All these elements helped make it a decent, entertaining effort.

The second book in the series, Insurgent, is not as strong a novel as Divergent. In fact, it’s a bit of a mess, with a very convoluted plot and a lot of new and unmemorable characters introduced, some killed off before you got a chance to care about them (or even remember their names).

The third book is a complete miss. I wrote about why I disliked Allegiant in a detailed and spoiler-filled review here.

Still, I had hopes that when it came to the subsequent films, the filmmakers would expand on what worked in the other two books and fix what didn’t. A not-good book doesn’t automatically mean a not-good film. (Ever read the novel The Godfather? Jaws? The movie versions are much, much better.)

Unfortunately, now in the hands of director Robert Schwentke (R.I.P.D.) the movie not only doesn’t fix the problems of the book, it actually highlights them–and adds even more.

After a devastating war, Chicago has a greatly reduced population that has enacted a “faction” system. At the age of 16, everyone must be tested to see which one they belong to, though they have the right to choose another faction. Once chosen, they can’t change. If they can’t cut it in their faction, they are turned out and become “factionless,” an underclass of itinerants.

Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) left her faction Abnegation (the selfless, governing class) to join Dauntless (the warrior class). However, when she took her test, she was told she was “divergent”–belonged to more than one faction. The Erudite faction, led by Jeanine (Kate Winslet), was determined to root out divergents, seeing them as a threat to the faction system. Erudite also plotted to undermine Abnegation so they could take over governing.

Tris and one of her Dauntless trainers Four (Theo James) fell in love. Four helped Tris pass her Dauntless initiation so no one would find out she’s divergent. However, Jeanine and some traitorous Dauntless leaders plotted to wipe out the Abnegation faction by putting other Dauntless under a “sim” (computer simulation) that would temporarily brainwash them into becoming mindless executioners.

Tris, being divergent, could not be brainwashed. With Four’s help, she stopped Jeanine and escaped.

This is where the movie Insurgent picks up. Tris, Four, and her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) are forced to seek refuge with other factions and eventually end up captured by the factionless. When the factionless find out Four’s real name is Tobias Eaton, they take him to their leader–Tobias’ estranged mother Evelyn (Naomi Watts). All agree they need to kill Jeanine.

Meanwhile, Jeanine finds a box that was hidden in Tris’ old home in Abnegation. Convinced it holds a message from the founders that will give her evidence she needs to get the rest of the factions to go along with destroying the divergents, she realizes only a divergent can get the box to open.

Yes, you read that right.

Yes, it’s as silly as it sounds.

In case that’s not silly enough for you: Tris is the only divergent who can open the box.

I will say one thing for the book–the box bit is not in it.

The rest of the movie is about trying to capture Tris and getting the frickin’ box open through sims that test whether or not Tris belongs to all five factions. Because this movie, unlike the last one, was shot for IMAX and in 3D, the sims go on FOR-E-VER. In Divergent they were fairly brief and the movie was much better for it.

There are a couple of impressive names credited as screenwriters for this film (including Akiva Goldsman) but you can ram a space ship through some of the plot holes. For instance, early on they all agree they must kill Jeanine, an unfortunate reminder that they had plenty of opportunity to kill Jeanine at the end of the last movie. She was in the process of committing genocide, for crying out loud, and all they did was destroy the computer program she was using to force one faction to murder another. Tris stabbed her in the hand (we are reminded of this because Jeanine wears a bandage through the whole movie) but that’s it.

Call me crazy, but what made them think she would stop after that?

O.K., O.K., lots of movies have plot holes, but they’re very careful not to remind you of them.

This would be forgivable if the movie adaptation had taken the messy, meandering source material and made it more focused. Even though it clocks in a hair under two hours (and I do applaud them for that) it still feels bloated, probably because the action scenes are puffed up to justify the IMAX and 3D.

Some of the new actors are woefully underused, particularly Octavia Spencer and Daniel Dae Kim as leaders of the Amity and Candor factions, respectively. But so are some of the holdovers from the previous movie. Tris’ conflicted relationship with her best friend Christina (Zoe Kravitz) is given short shrift. I would have traded some explosions during the sim scenes for a bit of emotional resolution to their situation.

The look and style of the movie also diverges (forgive the pun) too much from the first movie. For one thing, there is technology that suddenly exists that didn’t before, most notably ginormous projection screens over ruined skyscrapers where Jeanine is broadcast giving messages to the other factions.

On the positive side, the actors are almost without exception good–though I have to give special mention to Miles Teller as Peter. He is the only one who got genuine laughs out of the audience (and it was much needed humor). It’s no surprise his star is on the rise.

Reportedly, the last book will be split into two movies. While that worked for the Harry Potter and Hunger Games franchises, I’m guessing this will turn out to be a mistake. But I’ll keep hoping that they find a way to improve on the source material, because I love the character of Tris. She deserves better than this–and a great cinematic resolution to her story.

3 thoughts on “Movie Review: The Divergent Series: Insurgent

  1. I haven’t really had a chance yet to watch the movie but reading your article actually made me more excited to watch it (although it’s clearly not well made) but something in me likes seeing how they badly transformed the written word to motion pictures 🙈 I thoroughly enjoyed reading this btw, do more movie reviews ☺️

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