In preparation for my critique, I watched Divergent get up to speed on what the big fuss was all about. Like my Mockingjay review (http://wp.me/p4Mzvz-1A), I beg your pardon as I begin with an excessive, unprovoked, and completely pointless analysis of the first film. If you want my bottom-line recommendation and you are a fan of the first, the sequel is far superior. If you are not a fan, stay home.
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I can only suspend my disbelief for so long until I break out in a rant. I understand what makes an allegory and the need for satirical elements, but when the execution of the subject you are satirizing fails because you have no grasp of the world you created, how can I believe what you are saying?
Divergent is an allegory for high school social hierarchy. You have your standard cliques in the form of a Huxleyan political/economic structure:
Abnegation (the selfless), the Christians; Dauntless (the brave), the jocks; Erudite (the intelligent), the nerds; Amity (the peaceful), the hippies; Candor (the honest), student government/yearbook club; and Faction-less, everyone else.
In a post-apocalyptic fenced-in Chicago, the local population lives divided into the five Factions. Each works in conjunction with the other. Candor makes law, Dauntless enforces it, and Erudite uses their intellect to take advantage of everyone else. Amity and Abnegation are support classes that serve the whole. Faction status and characteristics are passed down through birth, but every once and a while a child is born with qualities of all five, a minority called Divergent. And within the first 15 minutes of learning this information the movie destroys itself.
Shailene Woodley’s narration tells us how neither Faction can interfere with another and you cannot leave. However, at the age of 16, citizens are given the opportunity to abandon their Faction in exchange for another. But if you are allowed to change and nothing keeps you from leaving, other than the rule of law, does that not make everyone Divergent?
It is later revealed Erudite posses mind control drugs. I can believe they poison the water supply to keep Factions in check, but how/why do citizens have the option to trade? It worked in The Giver and Brave New World because people were grown and conditioned to fit their class. The use of drugs would maintain the system at peak efficiency, with the exception of Divergent, who are naturally immune. However, it is very obvious nothing beyond societal limitations keep citizens within the confines of their Faction. Characters older than 16 will act out unlike what they have been taught to believe for years.
I can believe if the point was class is meaningless and everyone can be what they want. With complete sincerity, I wish more stories shared that message. Many works, people, and social groups become bogged down in trivial economic politics because they cannot fathom the utter insignificance of it all. The idea of something different is alien and dangerous. The only pure form of rule is of the self; Anarchy.
That would be the message if Divergent had an interest in saying something meaningful. From start to finish the film is about maintaining your individuality in a group setting like high school. The message is genuinely good, but even Hunger Games has complex themes that transcend the Young Adult genre; it was not written like a generic Pop song.
Other problems kept the film from being better. It is not unwatchable or cringe-worthy like Amazing Spider-Man 2, but that does not mean I would watch it again.
Depiction of the Factions is unsubtle to the point of jarring. Dauntless run and/or cheer for no reason, Abnegation act like depressed Mormons, Erudite talk like Vulcans, I am convinced Amity are constantly blitz, and Faction-less lack the intellect to wash themselves.
In general, the acting was okay. People say Theo James and Jai Courtney were robotic, but considering his character, James is fine. I cannot in good conscience say anything negative about Courtney, knowing he looked after the family of Spartacus co-star Andy Whitfield upon his death.
Kate Winslet’s character makes no sense. She wants to eradicate Divergent because they threaten society, but we do not see to what extent they are a problem. It is mentioned throughout Abnegation steals food and shelters Divergents, but if Abnegation is conditioned to be selfless and moral, how could they steal food? Furthermore, with no visible threat, how are Divergents dangerous to a society that seems to function just fine? Winslet is more of a problem because she takes control of Dauntless to systematically slaughter Abnegation, disrupting the Faction system. Why go to all the trouble when she could test the population and exile anyone Divergent? But none of that matters because we have no idea where she is coming from and how they are a threat!
Also, why did Winslet take such an interest in Woodley? Was that explained somewhere? Did she want to paint her like one of her French girls?
…Do you get it?
Anyway, for a film that cost 85 million, Divergent makes American Sniper look like Winter Soldier. The use of CG was bad, but the prop guns were so awful, I paused the movie and stared at the screen like the Zapruder Film. I could not believe my eyes. Am I supposed to believe the production could not get their hands on real guns and blanks in Chicago of all places? Hunger Games cost 78 million. Let me say that again:
Hunger Games cost 78 million.
Divergent was not terrible, but it was frustrating. It could have been so much more had it the guts and intellect to speak up. Does Insurgent correct those mistakes or does it fall twice as hard?
It corrects some mistakes, but leaves others like open wounds, festering with infection.
After escaping the Abnegation purge, Tris, played by Shailene Woodley, and Four, played by Theo James, find refuge at an Amity enclave with her brother Caleb, played by Ansel Elgort, and Peter, played by Miles Teller. Marcus, played by Ray Stevenson, is also there, but for less than three scenes and five minutes total. It is not long before they set out on a mission to take out Jeanine, played by Kate Winslet, before she kills more people in her hunt for Divergents.
The budget was 110 million spent wisely. One could tell the production made an effort to make everything appear consistent and real. The sets looked lived-in, the futurism toned down, the wardrobe more appealing, and the CG saved for the end. Everything has CG these days, but Insurgent used it as a tool for some beautiful sequences.
I am more thankful they used actual firearms like the KRISS Vektor and Mateba. However, they encased the KRISS in a shell that looks twice as ridiculous. I have a feeling the production wanted the weapons to look like FN F2000s, the same used in Hunger Games. They would have been better off using the standard platform with a suppressor, jacketed in a rail hand-guard, and a butt-stock similar to an FN SCAR.
Shailene Woodley is the best part of the film, going full throttle in her performance. She was given far more to do and moments to express the personality of her character. One scene in particular she is so good, it will be known as Woodley’s “Contender Moment”, taken from On the Waterfront (https://youtu.be/uBiewQrpBBA).
James was his same robotic self. At this point, I am not sure if it is the character or his acting. The same applies to Elgort who catches flies in his mouth and says lines with total vacancy. That sounds harsh, but I am sure he is better in The Fault in Our Stars. Even though he is an unbearable, sarcastic twerp, Teller fit quite well in his role. Compared to Jesse Eisenberg, another douchebag, Teller is likeable and funny.
Further analysis warrants spoilers. Please stop reading if you do not want to know what happens:
The story centers on a box found under Tris’s parents’ house by Jeanine. The box contains a message from the Founders, but it can only be opened by a Divergent. After Tris opens the box, the message reveals that the society was created as an experiment to birth Divergent as a kind of übermensch before they could rejoin humanity outside the city.
I feel I do not need to explain how stupid that is, seeing as how I already did about 1000 words back, but if Divergents are polymaths that can do anything, even though nothing outside of societal constraints keep non-Divergents from doing the same thing, why go to the trouble of conducting such an experiment, when the idea of being more than you are is basic common sense? Has humanity become a bunch of depressed, idiotic shut-ins with no self-esteem? Are they that incompetent and pathetic? Clearly they had the mental capacity and resources to fence in Chicago and an adjacent rural area.
I saw both movies once and each headache is greater than the last.
Another issue arises when the film introduces class warfare as Faction-less plots to take over for being under privileged. I feel I have written enough that this paper is too long for me to go on another rant.
And Kate Winslet’s character still makes no sense.
Insurgent is more frustrating than Divergent. The final reveal is like a drill boring into my head, widening a hole that was already there. But for a Young Adult movie, it accomplishes its goal and it was certainly not made for my demographic. Non-fans can appreciate Woodley’s fantastic performance. Otherwise, if you have no interest in the series, you will not miss anything staying home.