After a promising start to the Divergent series, follow up Insurgent suggests the franchise might have already run out of steam despite the best efforts of star Shailene Woodley…
In the battle of the dystopian young adult fiction franchises, the first outing for the Divergent series confidently gave The Hunger Games a run for its money. But as Chasing Fire and Mockingjay prove the Jennifer Lawrence-fronted adventure has staying power, Divergent’s sequel suggests Veronica Roth’s novels have already outstayed their welcome on the big screen.
Insurgent picks up the story almost immediately after the ending of the first film. Tris (Shailene Woodley) is on the run with Four (Theo James), hiding in the farming faction of Amity but megalomaniacal Erudite Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet) is determined to track them down. She sends out her henchmen to find all people displaying signs of divergence, which sees Tris and Four flee Amity. They seek refuge with the factionless where mysteries surrounding Four’s past are revealed. Meanwhile, Matthews discovers a secret box which can only be opened by someone with “divergence” making her even more sadistic in her pursuit of Tris.
These futuristic dystopias are complicated enough: they share similarities, notably the breakdown of formal societal structure alongside varying degrees of oppression. But what sets them apart are the finer details (in the Divergent series it’s the walled-off city of Chicago, humanity’s last stand; and the structure of communities based on rigid personality traits) alongside the journey of the principle character, in this case a teenage girl who discovers she doesn’t fit the pigeonholes prescribed for her. Divergent was as much about learning to be yourself, to accept your differences and to embrace them, as it was an exciting adventure story between those fighting for liberty and those trying to take it away.
While the story clearly has legs – there’s a lot more going on in this world than what was revealed in the series’ first instalment – as things become more complex, the central themes that made Divergent so enjoyable become diluted. Tris’ journey is less about herself and more about learning her boyfriend’s backstory and her parents’ secrets. Chicago in its futuristically oppressive guise was previously the backdrop to Tris’ story, our understanding of this society came through her self-discovery; now the roles are reversed – our heroine is the scene dressing.
That’s probably the natural progression for this series as the story opens out and the scale becomes much larger but unlike The Hunger Games, of which similarities cannot go unnoticed, the Divergent series appears to have less under the hood. Perhaps things have got lost in translation between page and screen or maybe director Robert Schwentke has put too much focus on building towards further sequels but they become greater criticisms when you realise Insurgent works half as well as its much better older brother.
Of course fans of the series will undoubtedly gain much from the film, particularly its penchant for expanding the world we were only introduced to in the first film. Schwentke is also adept at structuring a good action sequence while he ensures those wanting to see more of the romantic entanglement between Tris and Four get plenty of pronounced eye stares and PG-13 fondling. But he’s also at fault for diluting the drama – our heroine’s journey doesn’t have the sense of real peril seen in the first film, and the reliance on dream-like sequences and CGI special-effects saps narrative thrust. Insurgent also lacks Junkie XL’s work on the soundtrack (a real highlight of Divergent). Schwentke’s film is therefore polished but technically flawed. Perhaps it lacks a bit of heart. It means it’s a far less fulfilling addition to the genre.
Written by Daniel Stephens
Directed by: Robert Schwentke
Written by: Brian Duffield, Akiva Goldsman, Mark Bomback
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Octavia Spencer, Jai Courtney, Naomi Watts, Kate Winslet
Country: USA / IMDB
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Insurgent is available NOW on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D courtesy of Entertainment One.
Discover More on Top 10 Films:
“Divergent” Eclipses Its Young Adult Movie Contemporaries – by Luke Ostler & Simon Evans
Formula Fails To Hamper “Divergent” As It Confidently Enters The Young Adult Film Stage – by Daniel Stephens
“The Hunger Games” Enthralls As Kids Go To War – by Daniel Stephens