I actually was not among the group of people that disliked “Divergent”. I found it to be a good introduction to this “new” dystopian young adult world. Although not amazing, it served up an interesting mythology, likeable characters, decent performances and a stern direction from both the screenwriters and director. Despite it’s similarities to “The Hunger Games” I thought it had just enough differences to separate itself from its young adult dystopian counterpart (and leagues better than the only mildly interesting “Giver” and “The Maze Runner”). There was plenty of room to grow with its follow up “Insurgent”
If “Divergent” was a nice first step forward then “Insurgent” was two giant steps back. Although not a horrible film, and has its share of memorable moments, “Insurgent” suffers from a lack of potency, and a screenplay that is both unfocused, and at times convoluted. Underdeveloped characters do sometimes plague the screen, with Shailene Woodley giving it her all and while the action scenes do sometimes dazzle, it isn’t enough to save this sequel nor make me excited for the “epic” two part finale “Allegiant”.
After the events of “Divergent”. Tris, Four, Caleb and Four are on the run and find refugee in Amity. Tris is still reeling from the deaths of her parents and her friend. She feels lost, guilty and unsure of herself. Meanwhile Jeanine has been amassing power and starts hunting down Divergents after she discovers a box created from the founding members of their society (that only a Divergent can open). While Tris learns about something from Four’s past that could tip a rebellion in their favor.
One of the stronger points of “Divergent” was the script. No it wasn’t the greatest script ever written , but as a narrative it worked well. Clocking in at 139 minutes, the movie built its characters well, it had a nice pace, and didn’t get its plot all jumbled. The movie developed, explained their mythology and had a solid conclusion.
“Insurgent” (for whatever reason) replaces their former screenwriters with three new ones. At just 119 minutes (20 minutes less than the previous film) the script has 2 or 3 different narrative lines that could have been the movie’s main focus instead this crams in way too many new elements but doesn’t take the time to develop them. There some business with a box, a rebellion, four’s past, Tris’s dealing with her guilt, Jeanine hunting Divergents, and even more after all of that. None of these elements feel properly fleshed out. Many even feel abandoned by the end, never having a proper conclusion. This is perhaps the biggest issue with “Insurgent”. It confuses large amount of plotlines with being smart and involved.
Perhaps the running time was a big factor in why so many of these subplots don’t feel fleshed out. While some get priority over others, this movie does have a tendency to drag through less interesting arcs. Tris has to go through many challenges towards the end (most of them being dream sequences) that get increasingly less interesting. A pivotal moment in the plot, none of these “challenges” or sequences add much to her character (with the exception of one last sequence) and aren’t all that exciting either (knowing they are all dreams). I started checking my clock towards the end of this feature growing increasingly uninterested.
The other issue comes into play that the movie lacks some potency. I couldn’t get sucked into the emotional drama of the film. I didn’t feel the hatred between Tris and Jeanine (even though we are consistently reminded of it). I didn’t feel frightened or intimidated by Jeanine’s tyrannical rule. There is a confrontation between Four and Jai Country’s character Max. The first movie sets up an animosity between the two but during the confrontation I didn’t feel that animosity. There is a strong disconnect between what the characters are feeling and if the movie is sucking you into those emotions ; feeling for the character’s struggles.
The biggest concern I had going into this film was director Robert Schwentke. I though Neil Burger did a wonderful job with “Divergent” and would have like to have seen him return. Instead replacing him with the “Fightplan” and “R.I.P.D.” director. You’d be forgiven if those two titles don’t inspire much confidence. The screenwriters actually have a halfway decent resume yet turned out (for me) director Robert Schwentke actually turned out to be one of the biggest strengths of the film. His camera movements are graceful and fluid. The action scenes are actually well shot, no overdone shaky cam, you can see what’s going on, and there is some intensity and excitement to them. If the film was as well written as some of his efforts behind the camera, we might have had a movie on par with the first one in the series.
On a big plus side is the performance of budding young actress Shailene Woodley. She is so likeable, and talented that she helps elevate a lot of the material around her. Woodley is able to play dramatic, and tough, but also venerable, and sympathetic at the same time. She has solid chemistry with her co-star Theo James (and how refreshing is it to have a young adult series that doesn’t have a love triangle?), and she is convincing in her action scenes. Able to bring a wide range of emotions, Woodley brings pathos to her character; giving it a life that many other parts of the movie don’t have.
“Insurgent” is not even close to the level of it’s predecessor, “Divergent”. Many plot lines don’t seem to go anywhere and leaves you with many unanswered questions (that hopefully “Allegiant” will answer). Knowing that “Allegiant” is the least popular of the book trilogy maybe Summit Entertainment would be wise to reconsider the two part finale. The ending of this film should have opened up a world of brand new possibilities. But, part of the ending feels forced (not quite as bad as ‘The Maze Runner” ending) and oddly enough doesn’t make me excited about what comes next. I hope “Allegiant Part I” is a step back in the right direction.