My distaste for Divergent should be no secret to anyone who reads my reviews with any regularity. When the first film wasn’t making my eyes roll with its trite and nonsensical plotting, it was boring me with its dull and uninspired execution. And, in all honesty, not much of that has changed with the sequel, exasperatingly named The Divergent Series: Insurgent as if not reminding us of the film’s franchise nature would cause us to forget the first film exists. But maybe they were right in that assumption, because this series is becoming bland and forgettable enough that it’s difficult to even justify its existence to its fans.
I should probably start by pointing out what I liked about the film, as there are aspects that are redeeming. Shailene Woodley, reprising her role as the quaintly dystopian-ly named Tris, demonstrates a lot of potential as an actress. The obvious comparison is to Jennifer Lawrence in that other young adult dystopian franchise, but whereas Lawrence seems clearly bored with the lack of dynamic challenge franchise roles offer her, Woodley embraces the teenage angst of her role wholeheartedly and still appears to be giving the appropriate amount of spunk to the girls of a particular age she portrays. Also to this film’s benefit are the visuals, which still are set in concrete gray urban landscapes, but at least have the decency to explode in fractal patterns during the film’s many CG simulations.
But that’s about it. The plot, as in the first film, is a painful combination of idiotic and derivative, telling yet another story of a resistance movement against a vaguely oppressive regime, led by a female protagonist who is even more vaguely defined as special than most in this genre. The class system of Divergent’s world doesn’t even make sense as any sort of broad social allegory by this point, and only seems to serve as an excuse to paint its characters as one-dimensionally and archetypally as possible. The introduction of the Factionless only further spurs that confusion, as Tris’s special property is that she is transcendent of factions, yet here is a whole underclass of folks who do not conform. It is writing without consistency, or at the very least any worthwhile explanations.
And the acting, with the exception of Woodley, can be described as lazy at best. Kate Winslet seems to really be phoning it in as the Erudite villain Jeanine, portraying nothing but stern determinism where a film this dumb really could have used more scenery chewing to keep things interesting. Co-stars Ansel Elgort and Miles Teller seem to be trying somewhat to make their characters believable as more than plot vehicles, but their hearts seem only half in the game. The real dud of the production, though, is Theo James as love interest Four (another unnecessarily contrived apocalyptic nomenclature). He and Woodley have next to no on-screen chemistry, which makes what should be the most human element of Tris’s struggle for freedom a simple genre necessity, struggling in the meager hope that the teenage girls in the audience care more about a chiseled jaw than a believable performance.
By virtue of its willingness to be slightly more visually creative than its predecessor, I do find that I like Insurgent more than its predecessor. However, that still doesn’t make it a good film. This is a boring and sloppily written franchise that only exists to cash in on that sweet teenage expendable income by faithfully adapting their derivative reading material to the big screen. And hey, I won’t say that I think that kids reading is a bad thing, and making adaptations of young adult fiction will encourage more young adults to read. But those adaptations need to come from good source material and be made with a passion for that source material, and the Divergent series fits neither of those criteria.
What young adult series would you like to see brought to the big screen? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.