For anyone who missed its predecessor “Divergent”, there shouldn’t be a problem in understanding “Insurgent”. Getting a quick recap about it from a friend should suffice. The Divergent series isn’t relying on a difficult concept: There are five factions living inside huge city, which has become a walled. The inhabitants of this futuristic version of Chicago have no contact with the outside world. They may very well be the only civilization left. The citizens are mostly divided by personality into five factions. There is another group called the “Factionless”, because their personalities do not mesh with the other factions. And then there is a small number of outliers called “Divergents”. A Divergent is the opposite of a Factionless. Divergents can fit into any faction. Because they are so unpredictable (can’t be pigeonholed into a specific personality type), they are considered a threat to the rest of society.
“The Divergent Series: Insurgent” picks up three days after the end of the first movie, which introduced a futuristic world where teenage Chicagoans were forced to pick their lifelong path from one of five “factions.” Abnegation’s members are selfless; Amity, peaceful; Candor, honest; Erudite, intelligent; and Dauntless, brave.
It turns out Tris (Shailene Woodley) doesn’t fit neatly into one group but has equal leanings for several, which makes her Divergent and dangerous. She and handsome hard-body beau Four (Theo James) are on the run from the villainous Jeanine (Kate Winslet), the cold-hearted, power-hungry leader of Erudite.
“Insurgent” finds Tris beset by guilt and grief over the death of her parents and a friend she killed in self-defense. She isn’t the only one keeping secrets. It turns out that Four’s mother, Evelyn (a dark-haired Naomi Watts), isn’t dead after all, only factionless and looking to mount an army and go after Jeanine.
Tris could hold the key to the future of the society forged and fractured by factions and maybe whatever world exists beyond the walls — if she doesn’t die first. Of course fans of Veronica Roth’s series know there’s a third book, “Allegiant,” and it’s being turned into two movies set for release March 18, 2016, and March 24, 2017.
“Insurgent” smartly trades an MRI-style machine from the book for a device far more dramatic and also symbolic of how Jeanine views and treats people like puppets. As a whole, the movie feels bigger, broader (we see the farm fields of Amity and its beehive dome, for instance, in 3-D IMAX in some cases) and more expensive than the first, but with a trade-off.
A movie cannot and should not be a filmed page-by-page dramatization of a novel. Still, despite all the tears Ms. Woodley beautifully sheds, the emotional elements of the novel are diminished. Marcus, the abusive father to Four/Tobias, barely registers and Tris doesn’t even get the chance to consider conspiring with him.
Ansel Elgort, Ms. Woodley’s romantic interest in “The Fault In Our Stars,” returns as her conflicted brainy brother, Caleb, and “Whiplash” drummer Miles Teller is back as Peter and he lends a bright, welcome presence to this dystopian world. As usual, the second movie sets up the third so “Insurgent” asks questions that will only be answered in “Allegiant,” Part 1 or maybe 2.
This movie also does a good job of showing how the faction system doesn’t always work. It’s revealed in this movie that it’s possible to be only 10% Divergent while someone else is 100% Divergent. Some people are so close to “normal” that it’s a wonder whether or not they should even be considered Divergents.
There are also moments where characters that are not Divergent show Divergent qualities. For example, Peter is a Dauntless, but there are moments in this sequel where he could easily fit in with Erudite. It’s because of lowered expectations about his intelligence that he is able to pull off a scheme that would have been expected of an Erudite but not a Dauntless.
This is the movie where the faction system is quickly disproving itself as an effective way to live. However, it still has plenty of explosions, near death experiences, and general violence that we were all hoping to see after having watched “Divergent.”
At a time when women often are marginalized on the big screen, “The Divergent Series” should be applauded for keeping them front and center, good and evil and with no glass slippers in sight.