I'm a sucker for anything with a teenage girl kicking ass. It's sort of like how I imagine guys feel when they see Rocky, you get to live vicariously through the rise of a star who goes from a regular person to being something amazing and special. That's why I watch a lot of things. In the Divergent series, we see Tris, the protagonist, go from a teenager unsure of where she belongs in the world to a rebel who can really kick some ass. In this movie, Insurgent, Tris has become more confident from her harsh lessons with the militaristic Dauntless faction, and has become ready to take on the Man (or in this case, the Woman). It's like a lot of sci-fi dystopias really. What I liked about this movie was that you experience more of what the factions are actually like, outside of Abnegation and Dauntless, which are the primary focus of the first movie.
Tris' story began in the first film, where she was a girl in Abnegation, the faction that values selflessness above all else. Everyone takes a test at age 16 to determine the faction they will be best suited for. Each one is an entire mini-society, sort of like a cult, devoted to one virtue above all else. They are:
- Erudite - Knowledge
- Candor - Truth
- Dauntless - Courage
- Abnegation - Selflessness (loyalty, altruism, etc.)
- Amity - Kindness
The factions are serious business, and failing to test into any faction at all makes someone "factionless", basically homeless. But testing into multiple factions is also bad, as it turns out, it makes someone something that the Man (er, Woman) wants to hunt down, called a Divergent. This is probably because someone with multiple talents is a threat, as they might try to take over and rule multiple factions, or all the factions. Yet it seems kind of weird too, I mean, what's so wrong about being kind AND smart, or truthful AND selfless? People are never just one thing, and this system is oppressive and limiting in nature because it reduces people to a single trait and bases their identity solely on that metric after they join a faction. This is a commentary on how power is made in dystopian societies by the use of labeling and grouping people.
So, obviously, because a YA protagonist is always special in some way, yet still ordinary, Tris tests as a Divergent. She chooses Dauntless as a faction, because hey, zip-lining and train hopping make it look like so much fun. And it would be hella boring as a film if she had chosen to be a farmer in Amity or stayed with ma and pa in Abnegation. The first movie is about her proving her mettle in the Dauntless faction.
This movie is more about the escalating political tensions between the factions and Jeanine's (the head of Erudite) plans to make Erudite the ruling faction, when traditionally, the leaders have been chosen from Abnegation, because that faction was considered the most morally pure and incorruptible. So, a war escalates as Jeanine tries to hunt down hidden Divergents (which inculde Tris and her Dauntless beau, but there are others she targets) and destroy Abnegation.
The movie ends with Tris going through hell inside a simulation Jeanine is running while the Dauntless try to get her free. When she finally is free, she unleashes a truth bomb and everyone learns shocking things about their society and its origins. No one is sure what will happen next, but we do know their world is going to be changed forever.
I really liked this movie at the time, but since it first came out, my response to it has kind of cooled. I think it was well done, but this series is kind of predictable, kind of doesn't make much sense, and has many of the same flaws of other YA dystopian stories. For example, an ordinary girl being the key to breaking a dystopia because she's born special. It has cliches.
There's nothing that memorable about most of the characters. Tris is who you would expect to see if I said, "teenage girl who wants to prove to everyone else how tough she is". Her boyfriend in Dauntless is stoic and boring, even when they flesh out his back story. Her friend Christina is basically Shae from the Uglies trilogy; the best friend who goes in a different path and later has a falling out with the protagonist, but they end up patching things up to save the world and whatnot. It's all stuff you've seen, and the major characters are okay, but not particularly memorable or interesting by themselves. It's definitely a plot-driven, rather than character-driven story. It's about the world-building and secrets and conspiracies, history unfolding in real time.
So, I would give this one a weak "like". It passes, it and Divergent are good movies with cool-looking action scenes and some legitimately emotionally gripping drama. But, after having watched this movie a long time ago, I have little interest in seeing it again, and I can't name a character in it I truly liked or who stuck out as particularly interesting. For a story about sticking it to the man and being anti-conformity, the characters are surprisingly bland and ordinary. It's hard to even believe Tris as a rebel; she seems to be doing fine with conforming to the demands of Dauntless faction. On one hand, we see a girl who fits in and obeys orders as hard as Forrest Gump, and then the movie does a 180 and tells us to see her as a potential rebel who will subvert the order of society. I don't buy it.
So, this movie, like the one before it is decent, but not great.
I will have a review of Allegiant soon but I haven't seen that yet. Does it save the franchise? I feel like Insurgent was a better film than Divergent and so I hope Allegiant is better than both of them.