Divergent arrived last year with a lot of fanfare and the hope on the part of its studio that it would become the new Hunger Games. While it did fairly good business at the box office, it didn’t exactly leave much of an impression. Now its sequel, Insurgent, arrives, which like its predecessor mainly leaves the viewers with the impression that, ‘Well, that happened’.
Following the events of the first film, Tris (Shailene Woodley) and many others are on the run. Meanwhile Jeanine moves on with her plan to take control of all the factions. Although she continues to see the divergents – those with multiple personality traits – as dangerous, she also knows she needs them, as it is only divergents who can open a box left behind by the city founders, which she believes will help her cement her power and end the divergent issue completely.
When it’s discovered that Tris is the perfect divergent, she becomes the main target for Jeanine and her forces, especially after more and more people die trying to open the box, and it becomes clear that only a true, complete divergent has any chance of completing the trials that will allow them to see what it contains.
While you’re watching Insurgent it’s passable entertainment, helped enormously by both Shailene Woodley and Kate Winslet giving it their all and delivering performances that are perhaps better than the script deserves. It also ups the action and special effects compared to the first movie, with a few sequences which are actually pretty thrilling.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t add up to an awful lot. The film spends lots of time explaining what is going on (complete with some seemingly endless bits of exposition), but never properly works out why. As with the first movie, it never quite makes it world – where people are split into single personality traits – seem real and genuinely human. It’s partly due to a failure of proper world-building and also because it never really properly figure out what’s different between ‘normal’ people and ‘divergents’, or indeed why divergents are so dangerous.
In fact, it often feels like its tiptoeing around its central premise, worried that if it’s not careful it will reveal that the whole thing is based on nonsense. The best it manages is a slightly pandering suggestion it’s reflecting the teenage desire for individualism versus being stuffed into a box by society, but even with that it lacks logic.
It’s difficult to escape the feeling that with a stronger script and more narrative verve from director Robert Schwentke, there is actually a lot of potential here – indeed when you think about the plot from beginning to end, there’s plenty that could have made for a genuinely interesting and exciting dystopian franchise. However, it needed more bravery and style to fully succeed. Instead we get something that’s okay while you’re watching it, but it doesn’t leave much of an impression once the credits have rolled.
Overall Verdict: Maybe the two-part end to the series, Allegiant, will help wraps things up in a way helps give a bit more meaning and depth to the entire thing – and the end of Insurgent suggests that’s possible – but so far it’s difficult not to damn the whole thing with faint praise.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac