About a year ago, I wrote in my review of “Divergent” that I didn’t consider it a knockoff of “The Hunger Games.” I now feel the need to tweak that stance. Calling the series a full-blown knockoff might be a bit harsh, but the similarities are too numerous to ignore. Both franchises are based on a book series aimed at teenagers about a strong female protagonist who finds herself compelled to lead a violent revolution against a heartless, oppressive government in a dystopian future. There are differences of course, but they’re both trying to play to that inexplicably lucrative teenagers-in-bleak-futures crowd. To put it another way: I doubt that there are many people lining up to see “Insurgent” who weren’t at the theater for “Mockingjay Part 1” last fall.
As the movie opens, our hero Tris (Shailene Woodley), officially of the combative Dauntless faction, is hiding from the smart and evil Erudite faction led by Jeanine (Kate Winslet). She’s wanted for interfering with Erudite’s eradication of the kindly Abnegation faction, an attack that claimed both her parents; and for being a Divergent, meaning that she doesn’t really belong to any faction. She’s with her boyfriend Four (Theo James), brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and rival Peter (Miles Teller). They have to flee from their peaceful Amity sanctuary when Peter turns on them, as Peter tends to do. By the way, if you think Peter is never adequately punished for his treachery in these movies, just watch Miles Teller get bullied by J.K. Simmons in “Whiplash” and call it even.
Sorry for the brief divergence. The team splits up and Tris and Four next try to hide out with Four’s mother (Naomi Watts) who is the leader of an army of Factionless, people who definitely belong to a faction, but got kicked out. She tries to recruit them for a revolution, but there’s some bad blood between her and Four and soon our heroes are reaching out yet again, this time to the just Candor faction, for protection. Tris wants to leave to go after Jeanine and Erudite as revenge for the attack on Abnegation, and Jeanine needs a Divergent as strong as Tris to open a mystical box that she thinks will grant her some sort of ultimate power. The meetup is inevitable, it’s just a matter of who has leverage.
Needless to say, the plot is complicated. It’s not that the world of the “Divergent” series is rich in detail and you’ll grow to love it. It’s more like if you can make a connection between any two scenes in this movie that aren’t right next to each other, than you’ll feel rewarded for solving such a complex puzzle. Maybe this worked in the books where readers could go back and clarify certain details when the movie is going to keep chugging along with or without your understanding.
But it’s not all bad. If nothing else, this franchise has a really compelling lead actress with Shailene Woodley. Tris is pretty typical of characters in this genre. She’s haunted by a guilty conscience because she’s gotten people killed, yet always manages to be strong when she needs to be. With Shailene Woodley playing her, it’s like you’re seeing a character like this find strength within herself for the first time. This is especially true of scenes late in the movie where Tris has to pass a series of simulated tests to open that stupid box.
You know how I know that the “Divergent” series doesn’t want to distance itself from other Young Adult franchises like “The Hunger Games?” The last book, “Allegiant,” is being split into two movies. That’s a dirty trick it has picked up from its contemporaries. So now I have to see not one, but two more of these moderately tolerable knockoffs.
One and a Half Stars out of Five
“Insurgent” is rated PG-13 for intense violence and action throughout, some sensuality, thematic elements and brief language. Its running time is 119 minutes.