I went into Insurgent not having found Divergent (its predecessor) particularly interesting or good. But bearing in mind how pleasantly surprised I was with Catching Fire after being similarly unimpressed by Hunger Games, I decided to give Insurgent a fair shake (the basis for that comparison being that they’re both adaptations of young adult novels about dystopian societies). Unfortunately, Insurgent didn’t do much to improve my opinion of the soon-to-be quadrilogy as I found it dipping well below the mark of mediocrity that Divergent hit.
Insurgent starts where Divergent left off. Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) are hiding out with the Amity faction when Jeanine* (Kate Winslet) finds an artifact she believes can end the threat that the Divergents present to her regime. However, that artifact can only be activated with the help of a Divergent, driving Jeanine to hunt Tris down. In the meantime, Tris and Four try to devise a plan to take Jeanine down, putting them in contact with the Candor Faction and the Factionless.
I should never spend more time patting myself on the back for successfully predicting a plot point or twist (if you can call them that) than actually being engaged in the story, but Insurgent somehow managed to screw that up. It became comical by the end when the movie paraded around its huge reveal that I had managed to call a few minutes in. I share this not because I’m proud of myself but because it’s extremely disappointing when a story is so painfully formulaic. Maybe I’ve just been spoiled by Game of Thrones, but it’s hard to be concerned about characters whose lives are ostensibly threatened when you know for a fact they cannot (or will not) die. Also, I wish someone in this world would watch The Dark Knight. Perhaps then they could consider the concept that maybe the best way to fight your enemies is to not do exactly what they tell you they want you to do.
Since Insurgent is a sequel, a rather significant part of the upcoming criticism concerns concepts established in Divergent. I’ve been drawn to utopian/dystopian stories probably since the first time I read The Giver when I was in fourth grade. What makes these kinds of stories interesting to me (and I assume to many others) is that when you’re first introduced to the world, the design of the society makes sense and it’s initially a world you might actually want to live in… before the wheels come off and the dark truth about the costs required to sustain such a society is revealed. It highlights that our world, while deeply flawed, is very often preferable to the so-called “perfect” (I’m aware that’s not what “utopia” means) society.
But in Insurgent, it’s hard to believe that the oh-so-wise “Founders” ever thought that pigeonholing this city’s citizens into illogically narrow categories could be the foundation necessary to creating a thriving, peaceful society. Although, maybe they realized how horrible an idea this was and decided to cover their tracks by granting each faction obnoxiously pretentious names (e.g. “Abnegation” for the less than fifth of the population who apparently has the ability to be selfless). Is this really a society where people can only express one single, defining characteristic and having the ability to express more than one (apparently in neatly quantifiable measures cough midi-chlorians cough) makes you somehow special/rare? That is truly a dark vision for the future of humanity.
That’s not all that strikes me as bizarre about this. Where did these people who can only display one characteristic come from? They certainly don’t exist in our world. It’d be strangely convenient if the survivors of the devastating wars that led to this society being developed fell into these tidy categories. Or were they designed to only display that one trait? If the Founders were going to design people, why allow for the existence of people who don’t belong (i.e. Divergents and Factionless)? Instead, with apparent awareness of their laughably insufficient faction system, the Founders still went ahead and established it. They didn’t even seem to pretend that the system they were developing made any internal sense.
Perhaps this is accomplished more convincingly in the books, but the world-building done in the movies strikes me as wildly ineffectual. We’re often asked to accept certain realities about this world without being provided any justification beyond “because we say so”. And while that can work as a justification to the characters living in the world and as a demonstration of what’s wrong with the world, pitching the world like that to the audience simply reeks of careless and lazy writing. The realities that aren’t directly ignored are explained through unnatural, expositional dialogue that would never actually be spoken by characters who have lived in this world their entire lives, revealing the words to be nothing more than transparent attempts to clue the audience in.
I really like Shailene Woodley but for some reason, I have a tough time buying her in this action-heavy role. Part of it may be that I find her anguished/intense screams and cries jarring and borderline hilarious. Another part of it may be that she doesn’t strike me as having the grace and athleticism to look natural in fistfights or self-defenestration. Besides that, she’s as perfectly likable as she usually is and generally one of the few highlights of the film. Theo James plays the stoic Four competently but has few opportunities in which to flash anything more. The rest of the cast is strong though, highlighted by Miles Teller and Ansel Elgort, both of whom admirably play complex and conflicted characters.
Insurgent was an ultimately pretty disappointing movie-watching experience. I have no idea how it compares to the book, but what hope I had held out for this franchise is seriously dwindling. The only reason it hasn’t been extinguished altogether is that finally something interesting has been introduced into the story. The ending of Insurgent seemed tied up enough for me to question my assumption that another sequel was on the way. Now that that assumption has been confirmed (like so many movies before it, this finale will be divided into two parts), I am genuinely curious to see where the story goes from here and if my issues with the logic of the world are answered/resolved. That’s probably a mistake, but I guess we’ll see next year. And the year after that.
*Sidenote: Jeanine is a hilarious name for a villain.