As the Hunger Games series winds to a close, the powers that by over in Hollywood continue to hunt around for a big-ticket replacement franchise, with a lot of casualties on the way. As a card-carrying member of "really not the Target Audience" I haven't watched too many of them, but I was entertained enough by Divergent to watch the sequel, Insurgent, as our saturday night movie this week. As is the way we do things now, apparently, it is to be followed up by an adaptation of the third book, Ascendant, split into two parts, so you can pay twice to find out how it all ends. But first, we have to maintain enough interest to get us that far.
One of the problems with this wave of YA dystopias is that they are all in danger of looking and feeling the same. Here we are again in a ruined futurescape, with a mix of new technology thrown in amongst the post-apocalyptic visuals. Here again is a restrictive society that tells you what to do, forcing you to rebel, and be your own person, especially is that person is a feisty heroine who is really good at stuff, but shy, and needs a cute boy to tell her how ace she is. Divergent mostly made a strength of this by having a social structure built around five apptitude-driven clans that the Sorting
Hat Tests put you into for life, and having it's central protagonists one of the misfits that defy categorisation, having to pretend to conform until they can be themselves.
Insurgent picks up after the end of Divergent, with our heroine Tris hiding out with the pastoral, farmer class (farmers are peaceful, lawyers are honest, soldiers are brave, scientists are brutally amoral bastards; there is some odd stereotyping at work) and mulling over the actions of the last film, a useful primer for the audience. However they're quickly hunted by the security forces under the overall control of Kate Winslet's villian, now seemingly in charge of everything, and also intent on opening a magic box she's got her hands on. This magic box is apparently some sort of message that can only be opened by "Divergents" like Tris...so you can quickly see where that is goin.
There are really two main problems with the film and they both revolve around Tris. The first is that the plot literally hinges on the fact that she's super-good at everything. You open the box by qualifying for all five factions, you see, so only a Divergent can do that, and most divergents just aren't divergent enough. Tris is special - really special, you see, and the subtext about finding out who you are, and understanding your own identity is badly undercut if it turns out that really you're just amazing - super amazing, in fact, and there is this test that tells you that you are and you're the saviour of everyone! Go You!
The second is that Tris is otherwise a little dull. Shalene Woodley gives it a good go - generally the cast is excellent but really underused - but there isn't really a lot to work with. For all the mooching around about killing someone at the end of the last film she's quick to propose heading back and offing Kate Winslet, and lot of the rest of the time she's swept up in events with very little self agency. There is none of the damage that makes Katniss Everdeen such an interesting character, for instance, just....nothing really. She's a checklist of traits you'd want in a YA lead, not a charater in her own right.
And around the edges the world starts to feel like a paint-by-numbers dystopia as the plot tries to expand the setting. The classes make less sense as more of the plot hinges on them, and little of the wider world is explained beyond a vaguely frustrating cliffhanger that removes one of the few interesting actors from the story in favour, presumably, of one who hardly registered. Even the dystopia itself seems half-hearted; as the bad guys are defeated and crowds come out onto the street cheering I was left thinking "What are they cheering for? This series hasn't shown anything in the way of actual oppression!".
I guess it's not bad, if I'm being fair. It's handsomely shot, and the actors are all bringing as much as they can to a bland collection of characters doing generic things. The story and world let them down badly though, and thats a shame. As I mentioned before, I'm not the target market for this, so it may be hitting marks for others - I hope it is! - but for me I'm unlikely to check in with Allegiant, I think.