Back in January, I may have surprised some people when Divergent slid into the number five spot on my top ten movies of 2014. It’s not necessarily because they thought the movie was awful; it just may not have been good enough to be that high on the list. But I stand by my placement, believing Divergent kicked off the series with moxie. It did an excellent job at setting up all of the characters, signaling where the series would be going next and wetting our appetites for more. Now we have more, and though I know for certain it won’t make it into my top ten list this year, The Divergent Series: Insurgent is still a very good follow-up that leads perfectly into the first installment of the last chapter in the series.
After stopping the nefarious Jeanine (Kate Winslet) from using most of the Dauntless faction to wipe out Abnegation, Tris (Shailene Woodley) and her conspirators, which include her boyfriend, Four (Theo James), her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and her frenemy Peter (Miles Teller), have taken refuge in Amity, the faction of peace and tranquility, until they can find out where the remaining Dauntless members are hiding and mount a rebellion against Erudite. They don’t stay long, though. Ex-Dauntless leaders Eric (Jai Courtney) and Max (Mekhi Phifer), now working for Jeanine at Erudite, are looking under every rock for the insurgents, and Tris may be threatening her survival as she is unable to tame the temper that’s risen to the surface over the death of not only her parents (Ashley Judd and Tony Goldwyn), but the friend she had to kill to save her own life — the catalyst for most of her struggles throughout the film.
Woodley does an incredible job conveying Tris’s swelling turmoil that’s eating away at her entire identity. Starting with the butchering of her hair (an incredibly transformative scene that’s criminally reduced to a simple snip and exposition), Tris spends the majority of the film waging war over her guilt, forcing her to do battle against every value a divergent embodies — bravery, intelligence, selflessness, honesty and peace — and discover the true self hidden deep within. Though she must be brave in allowing Caleb to leave her side and selfless when it comes to protecting everyone from Jeanine, it’s the struggle with honesty that becomes the most affecting.
After being forced to flee Amity, Tris and Four join the factionless, where they’re sheltered by Four’s estranged mother, Evelyn (an unrecognizable Naomi Watts), who they both thought had died many years earlier. Evelyn informs them that Dauntless has found refuge with Candor and that when they are needed, the factionless would take up arms against Jeanine and her new security force. But the leader of Candor, Jack Kang (Daniel Dae Kim), isn’t so welcome, forcing Four and Tris to subject themselves to a lie detection serum before he will believe their story about Jeanine’s power grab. With the serum, the more you resist telling the truth, the more the serum attacks the body. The way Woodley conveys both the pain of the serum as the painful regret over so many deaths, the truth of which will also hurt her best friend, Christina (Zoe Kravitz), is remarkable. Every one of her grievances is slowly tearing her apart, and if she doesn’t come to terms with what she did, those grievances will continue to eat at her until she becomes entirely unrecognizable.
That’s also small potatoes to what awaits Tris at the hands of Jeanine. Early on, we learn that the reason she so adamantly wanted to wipe out Abnegation was so she could acquire a stone device that holds an important message for all of the factions. The only problem is it takes a divergent to open. Jeanine’s quest to find the divergent who can successfully withstand the simulations and unlock all of the faction keys on the device of course leads her to Tris, and nothing will get in the way of discovering the message.
Which brings me to one of the main issues I had with this film. Supposedly, Insurgent picks up a mere five days after Tris and her merry band went rogue, however, the technology seems to have advanced by years in that same time frame. Divergent not only introduced us to ways in which everyone is tested to decide which faction they belong to, but they set up a serum that gave Jeanine full mind control over all of the Dauntless. It was an extremely elaborate plan that apparently wasn’t needed, as now they can do basically the same thing with a small pellet shot into the skin. Not only that, but all of a sudden, Erudite can now use a simple handheld device to find out which faction someone can belong to, allowing them to locate any divergent as easily as a fly in milk. Both are very clever gadgets, but they sort of negate everything that was so thoughtfully set-up in the first movie.
Insurgent is nowhere near a masterpiece; in fact, I felt this outing was a little more predictable and a lot of what happens (such as, if Tris and Four are such high-caliber fugitives, how is it that they can walk around free as birds without so much as anyone recognizing them?) is somewhat questionable. By the time it came to revealing the message encased in the box, I pretty much knew what it was going to say. However, with the actors that have been put together for the series, these revelations come across fantastic, simply by each person’s reaction to it. And with a couple of surprising deaths and some good fight choreography, the film maintains the same level of high gloss and attractiveness as Divergent, which leads to a pleasing getaway that pumps your heart with adrenaline and allows for two hours of entertainment that will once again leave you wanting more.
My Grade: A-
Next week, new movies include Get Hard and Home. If you would like to see a review of one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.