I’m fascinated by post-apocalyptic stories – the conflict that changed the world is rarely as interesting to me as how humans react to it, and how they survive (and face, it there’s no story if humans don’t survive). From I Am Legend and The Passage, to the Hunger Games series and now the Divergent books, I love the stories of how people find their way through enormous crisis and set up some kind of new society. I Am Legend and The Passage both have man-created illness as their crisis; the City of Ember books, as well as Hunger Games and Divergent all refer to war of some kind, wars that we never see detailed (we’ll leave that to Edge of Tomorrow and Ender’s Game).
The society that comes out of crisis in the Divergent series is unique – most p.a. film or movies come up with societies that resemble our own – but Veronica Roth’s Divergent books have a different organization – a society based on its citizens’ primary personality traits. (Where would you fit in? I’m pretty sure I’d be Factionless…)
In the first film of the series, Divergent, the factions were introduced – Abnegation (selfessness), Amity (peace and kindness), Dauntless (bravery and action), Erudite (intelligence) and Candor (honesty). Through testing, most people clearly fit into one of these, but some don’t conform neatly, having traits that would make them fit into more than one, or Divergent. That’s our hero, Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley). And, for that matter, the man she loves, Dauntless trainer/reluctant leader Four (Theo James).
At the end of Divergent, Tris, Four, Caleb and Peter escaped from the carnage on the city’s train, unsure where they were headed. Insurgent, the second film in the planned 4-part series (seems like everyone’s doing that these days, splitting the final book in a series into 2 films), picks up days after that train run for their lives, as they settle into an uneasy life at the Amity faction. You know they won’t last long – despite being Divergent, Tris (Shailene Woodley) is no more made to handle the peaceful life of an Amity member than she was able to tolerate the quiet life at Abnegation – and the conflict that rages outside Amity, the conflict that took the lives of her parents and caused her to kill her friend Will, still rages on. And so, as Insurgent begins, it’s obvious that this group won’t be settling in to fruit-picking and campfire singing.
Insurgent is a bigger movie than Divergent was. The change in directors, from Divergent’s Neil Burger to Robert Schwentke, known for other action films such as Red and R.I.P.D., as well as one of my favorites, The Time Traveler’s Wife, brought with it a greater focus on special effects and a less realistic (if Divergent had a possibility of a realistic viewpoint) world view. But the film moves quickly, and keeps the viewer reeling from the last scene as the next one begins. I saw this film in IMAX 3D, and I highly recommend it if you have that opportunity. While 3D technology went through a period where it was heavily overused, this is a completely appropriate – and exciting – use.
Visual effects in this movie are amazing. The fight scenes are very well choreographed – fast, just long enough, not too bloody for the young-adult audience the movie is aimed toward. But the simulations from the five factions that Tris must go through contain some of the movie’s most spectacular special effects, particularly the burning flying house from which Tris must rescue her mother (Ashley Judd). Scenes of the city – and I live in Chicago, so much of this is startlingly familiar, and hard to look at – are terrific – bombed-out buildings, trains zipping through the wreckage, Navy Pier pushing out into a dead Lake Michigan (the Ferris wheel that Tris climbed in the first film is supposed to be the actual huge wheel that is at Navy Pier, which, by coincidence, is where I saw the film!).
There are a couple of large plot holes in this film. After Tris, Four and Caleb leave Amity, they catch the train (and it was kind of cool to see that the train was actually a double-wide) and have to fight off a group of Factionless – until Four tells them that his name is actually Tobias Eaton, knowing that the name would mean something to them. The group is taken to a Factionless stronghold, where they meet with the group’s leader, Evelyn (Naomi Watts) – who is actually Four’s presumed-dead mother. Four had learned some time before this that she wasn’t dead, and he wants nothing to do with her because she abandoned him when he was a child to his abusive father. So…. when did he find out about her? Why did she make contact? If you’re interested in this story, Roth put out a book of several short novels that were definitely geared toward the book/movie transition, titled, appropriately, Four. (The other stories include how Tris and Four meet when she is “first jumper”: his own Dauntless journey; and the story of his youth with his father Marcus). I’d strongly suggest you pick this up – you can purchase it here on Amazon.
The other large plot hole is the box that is the reason for Jeanine’s Divergent hunt. The audience gets no explanation of how she found this box (other than that she knew it was being hidden by Abnegation), how she knew that it could only be opened by a Divergent, how she got hold of the special simulation serum that would be used on the potential box-openers. And – if she knew all that, how did she not know that Divergents should be celebrated, not exterminated?
Performances were generally great. Woodley and James have great chemistry, and we can hope that they – and their relationship – survive the trials that are coming. Miles Teller, as Peter, the scheming Dauntless soldier whose loyalties are suspect and motivation is purely self-centered, was engaging and never over the top. The leaders, including Daniel Dae Kim as Candor’s spare and humorless Jack Kang, Watts and Spencer, didn’t get much screen time, but all fit their roles well. Ansel Elgort, as Tris’ brother Caleb, was awkward, confused, and more interested in the why’s than the how’s (but had a great line – as he sits with Tris while she’s given a chance to rest between simulations, they discuss their mutual defections from Abnegation, and he tells her, “I was selfess enough to let you be sacrificed.”) And Jai Courtney, as the smug, pierced, over-muscled Dauntless leader Eric, was great in the fight scenes.
So what’s next, now that the city’s citizens know that they were really just an experiment and not the last remaining people living in society? Allegiant, the third book in the series, will be broken up into two films (seems to be the fashion these days -the audience gets twice the story and the filmmakers get twice the money), with the first part coming out next March.
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