*** out of ****
Here’s a cold hard fact that is sure to get some readers riled up: the Divergent trilogy (I count the planned fourth-film, a continuation of the third novel, as a second serving of its source material) has far more depth than The Hunger Games. I preface my review with this because the two films are inextricably compared to each other, in no small part because: 1) both are based on young adult novels set in a hierarchal post-apocalyptic future with a peasant young heroine cast as society’s savior, and; 2) the Divergent novels – and its adaptations – emerged later, already trailing The Hunger Games’ success.
The premise of the series goes something like this: 200 years after the final World War, the last of humanity live inside a secured compound, protecting them from the vast, unknown wasteland that remains. In an effort to eliminate political and economic divisions, individual sects are instead divided by personality: Abnegation (selfless), Erudite (thinkers), Dauntless (fearless), Amenity (peaceful) and Candor (honest). Those that fit in nowhere are Factionless; those that fit more than one trait are Divergent – both are outcasts.
In the first film, Tris (Shailiene Wooley), a Divergent disguised as Dauntless, prevents an extermination of her kind, ending with her escaping into exile with her mentor/boyfriend Four (Theo James). Insurgent picks up with Erudite (the ruling faction) seeking to finish off the Divergents. However, a mythical box is discovered, handed down from the current society’s founders, which can only be opened by a Divergent possessing traits from every personality profile (Tris, of course).
The Myers-Briggs caste-system is an interesting twist on the ordered society model. It’s a much more original take on the oppressed-poor rising up against the over-privileged ruling class model we see constantly repeated in sci-fi thrillers (Snowpiercer, Hunger Games, In Time...though these are all excellent). Also, the dreamlike simulation sequences are imaginatively orchestrated….sure, they could be more intense, but given the demographic of the source material, it’s apropos. The scene where Tris must save her deceased mother from a burning building that takes flight feels like it could have appeared in Inception, and made me wish I had purchased a ticket for the 3D showing.
Speaking of its young-adult audience, the material here feels like it would resonate more with this crowd than The Hunger Games. The Factionless and Divergent subcultures speak to the adolescent anxiety of conformity. Also, Tris’ all-consuming rage over her parent’s death, and Four’s alienation from his abusive father and abandoning mother, give these characters more depth and complexity than Katniss, who’s inner character crux involves the Twilight-esque love triangle between her and the wimpy Peeta (he’s even named after flat bread) and childhood crush Gale.
The biggest chink in Insurgent’s chain is Wooley – her amateur-hour acting is so god awful she often brings the film down to the level of a B-movie, the kind where you laugh uncontrollably even though nothing is meant to be funny. If anything, she is why Insurgent will always be an also-ran to The Hunger Games, which is carried on the capable shoulders of its always-flawless lead Jennifer Lawrence.
Still, Insurgent is a multifaceted thriller promising a much larger, game-changing story arc in its final chapters. The cliffhanger conclusion leaves you craving more.