Having been a teenager myself for the better part of a decade (well, okay, not the better part), I can’t help but take issue with the thesis set forth in the Divergent movies. The idea goes that society just wants you to, like, conform, man. They want to put you in like these little Breakfast Club boxes for the rest of your life, man, but man, don’t do that. You can be all kinds of stuff, man. And when you’re all kinds of stuff, that makes you better than everyone else, because they’re all, like, sheeple, man.
In the Divergent movies, society has divided itself into five rigid classes – Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless and Erudite – that are each defined by their values and contributions to the community. But a teenager named Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) is special, because she has the attributes of each faction. You know, like pretty much everyone would, to one extent or another. But Tris is special. She’s “divergent,” which makes her immune to social brainwashing, and puts her in a unique position to save the world.
It’s an extremely adolescent fantasy – to think that you’re special just because you’re you, not because of your accomplishments – but it’s an understandable one. And the first film in the Divergent series was a competent example of juvenile wish-fulfillment. The cast was sincere, the action pretty cool, and the metaphor pleasingly simplistic in a “just shut your mind off and shovel down popcorn” sort of way.
The sequel, Insurgent, is basically Divergent again, but there’s more of it. After the events of Divergent, Tris, her boyfriend Four (Theo James), her shitty brother (Ansel Elgort) and a professional turncoat (Miles Teller) are on the run. Their escapades take them on a sightseeing tour of all the factions that got the short shrift in the first movie – Amity, Candor, and “The Factionless” – as their enemy, Jeanine (Kate Winslet) hunts them down, using technology that was conspicuously unavailable a week ago but which could have solved all of her villainous problems the first time around.
The wrinkle is that Jeanine now has a new master plan: to open her own Hellraiser puzzle box, which can only be unlocked by a Divergent. Jeanine believes that when she opens this Buzzfeed personality test Lament Configuration she will receive a message from her forefathers that will justify her genocidal crusade. Naturally, only Tris can open the damned thing, and only via a series of amusingly ludicrous virtual reality simulations that are custom-made for a tie-in video game. There’s even a boss battle with Nega-Tris, which is usually lame in video games and doesn’t play much better here.
While Divergent was at least enjoyably straightforward, and perfectly watchable even if you didn’t care very much, Insurgent goes the opposite route. It jumps headfirst into the mythology of the franchise, so that the only way to have fun is to become truly invested. Which would be fine if the story were intriguing enough to bother. This is Caffeine-Free Diet Twilight Zone territory, complete with a “twist” ending, and no amount of slick direction or unusually good casting can disguise it.
Insurgent is only good enough to divert, and only if it’s your first baby step into the science fiction genre. If your adolescent daydreams go beyond obvious metaphors and conventional ego trips, it’s not the film for you. But if you think the conception of the Divergent series is absolutely brilliant, or if your standards are simply pretty low for this kind of thing, then Insurgent will seem, like, pretty deep, man.