Tweetable Takeaway: Insurgent doesn’t make a good argument for two more Divergent movies. Tweet
By: Wil Loper, Contributor
We’re nearing the end of March, which means it’s that time of the year again. Time for another dip into the dystopian future in the Divergent film series, a tradition we’ll get treated to for the next two years to boot. The first in the series, Divergent, offered some hope that this might be something we’d look forward to. Unfortunately, the second film starring Shailene Woodley and gang, Insurgent, is a step down and backwards.
Insurgent picks up right where Divergent left off. There’s no “Previously on…” voiceover to help you catch up, or even for those who might be popping in to the party late. Some sequels stand alone easier than others, but this is not one of those movies. Even for one who has seen the first movie, when the terms of the universe start being thrown around, the Erudites and Abnegations and the rest of the faction names, it’s tough to remember which is which short of bringing along a notebook to the theater. The skinny of it is that leader of the unfree world, Jeanine (played by Kate Winslet) finds a box that can only be opened by a Divergent. A Divergent being an individual who doesn’t fit nicely into any of the five categories. Tris, along with her boyfriend, Four (Theo James) are on the run after Jeanine accuses them of being criminals. We know things are getting serious in this sequel when Tris decides to cut her hair short, and in doing so sheds the Shailene Woodley innocence we’ve come to know.
It’s a bold move to make, a departure that should make sense for the character but distances itself almost too much from the first movie. In Divergent, part of the appeal was in Tris feeling different and alone in a world of nice, neat categories. In Insurgent, Tris is mostly bitter, and has fits of angers and breakdowns throughout, without ever feeling like it’s adding up to anything. Divergent she was an awkward high school freshman evolving into a confident senior at graduation. Insurgent she’s a cranky middle-aged woman wandering around yelling at people. Additionally, Tris no longer feels like the heart of the franchise, but instead one pawn among many. Heck, Miles Teller as Peter feels as much a working protagonist in the movie as Tris does.
Then there’s the mystery box. Jeanine says that the box will hopefully have a message from their long-dead elders for help on their current problems. I’m paraphrasing, but that’s nearly exactly what Jeanine says in the movie. It’s a ridiculously vague statement made on Jeanine’s part, and one that doesn’t help anybody in the audience get invested in finding out what’s actually inside. Jeanine might as well go to the Erudite library, grab an old dusty book from the shelf, and say, “I think there might be a message in here from our elders on what direction our society should take.” It’d be one thing if opening the box meant all Divergents would instantly explode. Or even to know for sure what exactly is inside, so there’s a scintilla of suspense and we can root against Jeanine. Instead, all we’re left with is a vague inkling at what might be inside and what maybe will happen once the box is open. It’s tough to get involved with those kind of wishy-washy stakes. We do get to see what’s in the box, but it’s no Gwyneth Paltrow’s head. I suppose we should count ourselves lucky we find out what’s in the box and don’t have to wait two more movies to find out.
The end of the film gives the smallest of hints at a universal theme that we’re all just humans in this together, but it’s quickly pushed out of the way in order to give the audience a cliffhanger before the next movie in the series comes out. Which, once again, although there is only one more book in the series, we’ll be treated to two more movies. Everyone worried they wouldn’t be stretching the Divergent franchise as far as it could go (and probably farther than it needs to) can rest easy. I’m still waiting for the day one of these series does so poorly by the second to last movie, they cancel the final one and we can end this clear grab at more cash. It won’t happen to this franchise, but after watching Insurgent, I kind of hope it does.
I give Insurgent 2.5 mystery boxes out of 5
Score: 2.5 out of 5