This post is about Insurgent, the sequel to Divergent, but first, let me diverge…
Recently I’ve been around some deep conversations about The Hunger Games. There are many in my circles who don’t like the franchise (books or movies) on the basis of the premise alone—children killing children. It’s a perspective I can completely understand. I mean, I don’t like children killing children either. And that’s not a joke or anything—that reflects a lot of terrible stuff that’s going on in a lot of the world, with child soldiers and so on.
Still, there are many others who don’t mind The Hunger Games and even enjoy it, presumably because it’s a gripping story with lots of action, drama and heart. Some say they can excuse the premise because the killing isn’t glorified. I’m not completely sure that’s true—I think it might be glorifying it a bit just by making something about it—but at the same time I can agree that the movies (I’ve never read the books) certainly seem to agree that what is going on is really really terrible.
I think that’s the thing that gripped my attention with them. It was clear from the beginning of the first film that this world was terribly unjust and wicked, and it’s largely because I’m really hoping I get to see Katniss Everdeen tear it to shreds that I have been sticking around ever since.
All that leads us to Insurgent, which got mentioned in those same conversations as an alternative take on the some of the same ideas from the Hunger Games. Of course, we knew that much—the story has been accused of being a massive rip-off of the Hunger Games, and certainly it owes some of its popularity to the fact that the Hunger Games has helped make this kind of story kind of big.
I wrote about Divergent before, where I said it was a well directed science fiction action drama about a world that does not make a lick of sense when you give it a couple of brain cell’s worth of attention. How on earth is a society supposed to survive and thrive when everyone is divided into factions based entirely on personality type? Why would anyone live like this? How does it work? Who, for example, does all the cooking for the factions that are made entirely out of bookish readers or crazy athletes? Who does the sweeping? If it’s those people themselves (you know, like in real life) than how is that allowing them to play to their personality types? And why on earth do only the best of the best of the athletes get allowed to join the faction in the end? Is the same thing happening with the other factions? Does that mean that all the recruits into the Candor group (the ones who are all about telling the truth) have to survive to-the-death debate club matches to actually join?
Anyway, Insurgent, which picks up shortly after the first film left off, gives us an opportunity to explore this world a little bit further, although doesn’t really explain anything except to say that it’s all some sort of weird experiment: humanity was messed up so in order to fix it they locked a bunch of people inside a city and somehow re-created factions (so presumably they existed before) and then set up an elaborate test that only someone who was perfectly “divergent” (carried all the personality types in equal measure) could actually pass. Why doing all this would actually benefit anyone, let alone society as a whole, is not addressed and will presumably be brought up in a similarly unsatisfying way in the next sequel.
In that initial conversation one of my friends who doesn’t like The Hunger Games said they prefer Divergent and it’s offspring because the message is more positive: people don’t easily fit into boxes and some people do feel trapped by society’s expectations. This doesn’t mean they are not special or do not have a valuable contribution to make. Certainly, I agree with this but ultimately feel like the story that we get in Divergent is more routine and tiresome. The main character, Tris, is not engaging and the young people around her also fail to make an impression. There are more effectively designed effects sequences where Tris is jumping around in virtual reality, but it’s not enough to make up for the plodding around in this fantasy world that seems so unsupportable.
On the positive note, the film does seem to do away with some of the franchise’s more annoying characters. I’m thinking of the bad guy that Jai Courtney plays (who so far feels like one of the least interesting screen personas to emerge in recent years) who is mercilessly but refreshingly executed in cold blood by the good guys. Kate Winslet’s villain appears to be similarly dispatched, which was fine by me as it felt the story had long run out of steam for her. She appears to be replaced as far as future villainy is concerned by Naomi Watts’ Evelyn, who is a more appealing (and thus a bit scarier) of a character. It’s also nice to see Daniel Dae Kim getting work – he always brings a solid presence to his work (even when he is needlessly sacrificing his life in Lost). Miles Teller also appears (again) – I only note this because he is the guy who will be playing in Reed Richards in what we still hope will be the best Fantastic Four movie ever made.
So, in the end, I have to say that I prefer The Hunger Games by quite a long shot, morally questionable premise and all. I’m sure there is another Divergent film in the works, and I’ll probably watch it, again on the plane. I am sort of curious what we’re going to find outside of those walls. It’s nice that I haven’t got a clue what to expect, but I really hold little hope that it will truly be satisfying.