I had no desire to see Divergent when it first came out. I was pretty young-adult-dystopia’d out at the time and I wanted to save my tolerance for when the new Hunger Games came out. Its reviews were not encouraging, but since I wanted to see the sequel to review, I figured I should give the original a shot. So I saw it the other night. How did that go, you ask?
Badly. I know nothing about the book but Divergent the movie is a hacky Frankenstein’s monster of a movie, with plot points, characters, ideas, and even whole scenes lifted from other better movies. I therefore did not go into Insurgent with much in the way of high expectations, but that’s not always a bad thing. Low expectations has consistently kept The Hunger Games on my good side. So, how did Insurgent do?
The plot is…well it’s a Young Adult Dystopia, you can probably sing along at this point. The lead is Tris (Shailene Woodley), who lives in future Chicago after some vaguely defined catastrophe and have got a giant ice wall, I mean a big fence to protect themselves from…something, I dunno if they said. To keep the peace, society has divided into five groups, named after a thesaurus look up of their dominant trait.
Dauntless (Gryffindor) are brave, Agnegation (Hufflepuff) are selfless, Candor (Ravenclaw) are honest, Erudite (Slytherin) are smart and Amity (if we have 5 we can’t be accused of ripping of Harry Potter) are peaceful. But a problem arises with people who are Divergent, which means they can belong more than one group, who can threaten the system because they…again, didn’t quite grasp that.
Anywho, in the last movie Tris was revealed to be Divergent but like everyone she got to choose her faction because…nope, didn’t get that either. She chose Dauntless, because she knew in these YA books, you gotta find Gryffindor and stick with it. She meets Four (Theo James) and promptly falls in love with him because of course she does.
After thwarting an attempt to seize control of the entire government by Erudite (Abnegation was in charge before, which raises a ton of questions but never mind), Tris and Four have to go on the run, trying to find the remaining members of their faction and try to stop Erudite from killing them and overstepping its bounds.
This is, simply put, not a good movie. It’s a bad one, and at points it flirts with being a terrible one. But it IS an improvement over the movie it’s a sequel to, enough of one for me to see that this concept might have something resembling potential if you ripped it to pieces and rebuilt it from the ground up…okay, maybe not a lot of potential, but still.
The thing at the root of the problem is the script. The movie is already working from a ludicrously on the nose metaphor for how young adults don’t feel like they fit in, and they movie is unwilling or unable to inject real depth into its cardboard cutout characters or their nearly nonexistent arcs. The dialogue is incredibly unsubtle, to the point where I half expected the Robot Devil to pop out of nowhere to complain about it.
It also has a bad case of what I’ve started to term ‘Adaptation Syndrome,’ where it expects the audience is already aware of certain things and doesn’t feel the need to tell us about them. A perfect example comes at the midpoint, where through a series of contrivances, a girl commits suicide and another girl acts exceptionally aggrieved about it.
That might be fine, but I had no idea who either of them were. Who are they, where did they meet, what is their relationship? Are they best friends, sisters, lovers, what? I have no idea. Hell, the only reason I could recognize one of the girls as a recurring character is because she looked enough like Jack from Mass Effect that I took note of her in crowd scenes.
This lack of explanation extends to everything. Technology that is absolutely vital to the plot seems to gain new abilities as the story demands. The geography is incredibly loose and it seems like the relationship and power structure between the factions shifts every other scenes. All of this stuff could be elaborated on or explained, but the movie seems to assume that we already know all this and just moves on.
The acting is up and down. Shailene Woodley is impressively committed to her performance. Oh, she’s given terrible stuff to read, but she is devoted as all hell to making it work, and there are brief moments where I get to see the potential I saw in her back in The Descendants.
Theo James is pretty boring overall, but I don’t think he was cast for his dramatic range so much as what he looks like without his shirt. Miles Teller is a good actor, but he is utterly unable to sell the sneering, Draco Malfoy character he needs to. Most of the more adult actors showing up for that sweet, sweet Hogwarts Faculty money are pretty checked out, although Daniel Dae Kim is okay (even if he reminds me a little too much of his character from Angel).
Okay, so far all I’ve really done is whine, but I did say it was better than Divergent, so what has improved? Well it’s got a better climax. The third act is a little cut rate Inception, sure, but at least it’s visually interesting. It also moves at a better clip. Sure, it gets a little slow in the second act, but at least its not the unholy slog the first one was.
There’s a tendency from movies aimed at teenagers or kids to assume their audience is stupid, which is what sinks them more often than not. This is no exception, with every point the movie has to make spelled out for us in triplicate, and a twist so incredibly obvious that I guessed it literally the very moment it was set up. If you’re looking for something to hold you over until the final Hunger Games movie, go read some Tamora Pierce and stay far away from this.
Elessar is a 25 year old Alaskan born cinephile and you could also try reading some Ursula K. Le Guin.
– not badly directed or edited
– Shailene Woodley is really good
– visually interesting, if dramatically empty, climax
– really dumb script and story
– most of the actors are phoning it in or out of their depth
– ends on a dumb twist and obvious cliffhanger