Divergent spent a lot of time world-building without creating an aura of danger, and while Robert Schwentke’s sequel, The Divergent Series: Insurgent, is more intense and visually vibrant, it still features the same tedious characters stuck inside a contrived conflict based on a faulty premise. The movie misses the details of a dystopia, and characters from both sides constantly make boneheaded plays that are far too reliant on last-minute saves. For a series about the importance of being different and diverse, Insurgent cements the YA franchise as lazily going along to get along.
Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James), Caleb, (Ansel Elgort), and Peter (Miles Teller) are being hunted by the nefarious Jeanine (Kate Winslet) after stopping her plan to genocide Abnegation. The quartet is hiding amongst the hippie-esque Amity faction, but they know they need to get moving. Jeanine has declared martial law and is using Dauntless soldiers to track down Divergents for use in a mysterious experiment involving an artifact hidden in the ruins of a destroyed Abnegation home. In their quest to stop Jeanine, Tris and Four must win over the Factionless, Candor, and make a discovery that will upend everyone’s world.
After seeing Divergent and now Insurgent, this is a franchise that’s clearly in love with its concepts more than its characters or stories. The idea that there’s a branch called “Candor”—where everyone tells the truth and therefore entrusted with the law—is neat. The fact that everyone dresses in black and white is a little much, especially when you’re telling a story about life-and-death stakes where the bad guys are even willing to kill children. But the major problem is that nothing evolves beyond this class system. The story tries to derive meaning from organization and the reliance on those organizations, but it never challenges the system in any meaningful way. Just like its villain, Insurgent wholly and unquestioningly relies on a superficial construct.
I suppose it has to share an affinity with its antagonist since its protagonist is so painfully uninteresting. Tris’ journey starts at a promising place as she’s wracked with guilt, although it’s that kind of forgivable guilt where we know she shouldn’t beat up on herself so much. Schwentke frames it as PTSD, and watching her cope is an interesting start, but it never really gets going. Guilt defines Tris, and while she mopes about, Four is the one actually putting things together. Like many a boring protagonist, Tris is deemed special by what she “is”—divergent—rather than what she does.
And what she does in Insurgent falls into the story’s confused relationship with how people accept their realities. What made Tris’ divergence dangerous in the first film is that she recognizes that the “Sims”—chemically induced, vivid hallucinations—aren’t real. This meant that she was unaffected by the serum that caused many other Dauntless soldiers to mindlessly murder innocent people. Insurgent redefines the importance of divergence, and while its simplistic message of “I want to be more than one thing,” is intact, as a plot device, it no longer makes sense because it’s now at the mercy of a silly, poorly executed twist.
Perhaps deep down in Insurgent’s mash of impressive visuals (this is a big step forward for Schwentke, who previously directed Red and R.I.P.D.) and half-realized world-building (for some reason, the Dauntless members who are in hiding feel comfortable enough to just hang out on the front steps of Candor’s headquarters) there could have been some interesting ideas and a personality to make The Divergent Series stand apart from its fellow YA films. But with a guilty dishrag of a heroine and a limp plot, I’m only left to dread two more installments of this tepid franchise.