Despite my misgivings about the whole YA movie craze, I really wanted to like the Divergent series. I was basically on board for the first movie’s young adult twist on Ravnica, even if its eventual climax left much to be desired. And despite that, I was still pretty excited to see what inter-faction, urban warfare would look like in a bombed out, futuristic Chicago. What I saw, however, was confirmation that despite its undeniable pull at the box office, the fledgling Divergent series is hardly the The Hunger Games successor that many have been quick to call it.
In the wake Divergent‘s climax, the Dauntless and Abnegation refugees take asylum within the Amity faction while
President Snow Jeanine Matthews, head of the conspiratorial Erudite faction, redoubles her efforts to hunt down Divergents. Her assault on Abnegation wasn’t merely to usurp political power from the faction, but to secure an ancient artifact entrusted to that faction by the Founders – a box that can only be opened by passing a simulation corresponding to each one of the city’s five factions. In other words, she now needs the Divergents – specifically Triss – in order to unravel the Founders’ secrets.
Despite the numerous issues that I took with the movie, Insurgent was not without its share of charm. Its intentionally broader scope provides insight not just into all five of the film’s factions, but into the disenfranchised Factionless as well. In particular, the scenes in which Triss and Four square off against Candor’s leader are unquestionably the highlight of the series thus far: proving the inherent value of Divergents within such a sharply sectioned-off society.
The cast is a perfectly solid mesh of young talent. Shailene Woodley is a perfectly reasonable lead for the film, especially when you consider that Jennifer Lawrence has better things to do than make worse versions of The Hunger Games in her spare time. Theo James has a surprisingly massive presence whenever he appears on screen. Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort and Zoe Kravitz serviceably round out the supporting cast, providing just enough for the leads to work off of while running from plot point to plot point.
Insurgent‘s problems, however, are not its superficial dressings, but the fundamental logic of the story. Divergents as a concept – and Triss especially – are perfect examples of the Personal Fable: a psychological concept in which an adolescent believes that they are the only super, special, rainbow, sparkle, sunshiny snowflake in the entire world. Nobody can understand what they are going through because nobody could possibly have gone through anything even remotely similar. In short, nobody else in all of human history has ever been quite as special and unique as they are in the present.
Fundamentally, that’s what the movie’s about. The
Macguffin Box that only Triss could open tells her that she is the result of an experiment (ie, the last 200 years of Human history and the foundation of her entire society) designed, through some kind of social evolution, to produce Divergents, who will be the salvation of mankind. That’s right, Triss is basically Jesus (although, truth be told, even Jesus wouldn’t have any idea of what this poor Abnegation cum Dauntless girl is going through, because even he wasn’t the one-of-a-kind butterfly that she is). The entire movie plays out like an especially angsty tween’s diary entries about why everybody else at her school is wrong for not let her sit at their table during lunch.
The payoff is weak. It didn’t need to be the culmination of one movie’s narrative, let alone two. In the meantime, this perfect little snowflake – who, mind you, is the most wanted person in latter-day Chicago – spends an inordinate amount of time out in public, in broad daylight, wearing her signature revealing outfit that shows off her incredibly distinctive tattoos. There’s absolutely no reasonable explanation for why she wouldn’t have been immediately arrested, especially when you consider that the woman hunting her controls the city’s combined police force and military.
While Insurgent is hardly the worst of the increasingly popular Young Adult adaptations, it is the most disappointing. I can’t see any possible way that the Allegiant movies can salvage what’s already been done to the series. When everything’s said and done, Insurgent isn’t anything that Hunger Games hasn’t already done better.