April issue 2015

By | Movies | Published 9 years ago

The second film of the Divergent series, Insurgent, has a more starry cast, is shorter in length and has a new director. On paper, this should have been an improvement. In reality, it’s really hard to tell, because both Divergent and Insurgent do not feature anything one hasn’t already seen in other films. In fact, this appears like a mish-mash of movies. Insurgent takes its cue from Inception, Ghost in a Shell and, unavoidably, the other ‘big’ Young Adult dystopian sci-fi series, The Hunger Games.

The saving grace, if you can call it that, is Shailene Woodley. She’s turning into the finest actress of her generation, but if that’s the only take-away from the Divergent series, then why not watch better and more substantive Woodley films, like White Bird in a Blizzard for instance? And we’re not done yet. We have Allegiant: Part 1 and Allegiant: Part 2 to look forward to, in 2016 and 2017 respectively.

This sequel picks up from where Divergent ended. Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James), Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and Peter (Miles Teller) are all fugitives now, hiding out with the Amity group. Jeanine (Kate Winslet), who is still alive, and has, for purposes of continuity, a bandaged arm, needs to find Tris at all costs. It turns out that Jeanine is now in possession of a mysterious box which can only be opened by a Divergent. The box holds some great secret, but all I could think of was Jeanine’s name. Why in the world would any book or film series name its main antagonist Jeanine?

After some chase sequences, Tris comes face to face with Jeanine and is made to open the box — the one with the secret. Her brother Caleb is now on Jeanine’s side by the way, but jerk Peter, meanwhile, is working for Tris. It’s all very confusing, probably better explained in the book. Anyway, our young Divergent heroine is put through different simulations and appears to be dead. But she’s not (there are two more films to go!) and the box is opened. The message it contains is, admittedly, a surprise twist. But on second thoughts, it’s an infuriating twist, because it has taken two films and some four hours to only set it up. And there are now two more films in the pipeline (which, incidentally, is reminiscent of a certain M. Night Shyamalan film).

Insurgent, for all its decent acting and passable action sequences, is very problematic. It epitomises all that is wrong with literary adaptations today, in particular Young Adult dystopian novels. It seems like these are written for the sole purpose of outdoing the last popular series. If there’s Hunger Games, there is Maze Runner. If there is Mortal Instruments, there is Divergent. Fans of the books might rejoice, but non-fans, who have had enough of these adaptations, continue to suffer. Especially due to the fact that the last book in a trilogy is almost always split into an unforgiveable, commercially-viable two films. Tris would have rebelled against that.

This review was originally published in Newsline’s April  2015 issue.

Schayan Riaz is a film critic based in Germany