The Diver­gent Se­ries: In­sur­gent

The YA se­quel has its virtues

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Rated - An­drew Os­mond

Re­lease Date: OUT NOW!

12A | 119 min­utes Direc­tor: Robert Sch­wen­tke Cast: Shai­lene Wood­ley, Theo James, Kate Winslet, Naomi Watts, Miles Teller, Ansel El­gort

Last year’s Diver­gent

opened to luke­warm- to- neg­a­tive re­views, and solid but un­ex­cit­ing box of­fice. Its tak­ings were less than half those of Hunger Games, to which it’s of­ten com­pared; both de­pict teen girl heroines in vi­o­lent fu­ture worlds, with bru­tal regimes and end­less fight­ing. It’s un­likely that In­sur­gent, Diver­gent’s se­quel, will pick up many new con­verts ( like many fran­chises, it makes no al­lowance for newbie view­ers), and the par­al­lels to the Hunger Games films are ac­tu­ally more ob­vi­ous this time round.

That’s not to say it’s a bad film. Diver­gent it­self was un­der­rated, more in­ter­est­ing and en­ter­tain­ing than many re­view­ers al­lowed. Both it and In­sur­gent are based on the YA books by Veron­ica Roth, set in a fu­ture Chicago that’s ap­par­ently civil­i­sa­tion’s last en­clave on a ru­ined Earth, with so­ci­ety di­vided into fac­tions based on virtues. The first film fol­lowed hero­ine Tris ( Shai­lene Wood­ley) who’s ap­palled to learn she’s a “Diver­gent”, an un­clas­si­fi­able men­ace to so­ci­ety. It cli­maxed with a vi­o­lent coup en­gi­neered by ruth­less gover­nor Jea­nine ( Kate Winslet), who’s hell­bent on ex­ter­mi­nat­ing Diver­gents. Tris sur­vives, though both her par­ents die sav­ing her.

The se­quel, di­rected by fran­chise new­comer Robert Sch­wen­tke ( The Time Trav­eler’s Wife), car­ries straight on, with Tris now a fugi­tive to­gether with her boyfriend Four ( Theo James). Still pur­sued by Jea­nine’s goons, they hide out among var­i­ous par­ties, none of whom seem in­clined to con­front Jea­nine ex­cept for the Fac­tion­less, a rag­tag group of so­cial re­jects led by Four’s long- lost mother ( Naomi Watts). Mean­while, a cen­turies- old mes­sage is found in Tris’s fam­ily home; Jea­nine be­lieves this will ce­ment her power and jus­tify her Diver­gent mur­der pro­gramme. But there’s a snag. A supremely pow­er­ful Diver­gent is needed to open the mes­sage…

Like many of the se­ri­alised fran­chise films of re­cent years, In­sur­gent suf­fers for the want of a strong shape and struc­ture. There’s a lot of to- ing and fro- ing, and the familiar ir­ri­tant of no clear goal for much of the du­ra­tion. How­ever, this is mit­i­gated by a se­ries of strong char­ac­ter pay­offs in the last act ( as well as by some ser­vice­able plot re­veals); and, more im­por­tantly, by the fact that it’s ex­cit­ing and edgy. Whereas Diver­gent dealt with gru­elling regimes of phys­i­cal and men­tal train­ing – more En­der’s Game than Hunger Games – In­sur­gent is packed with chases and fights, of­ten with adren­a­line. One char­ac­ter must leap across the path of an on­com­ing train, while an­other is pur­sued by ninja- like at­tack­ers on zip- lines, swoop­ing down from the night onto a sky­scraper roof.

Some view­ers will com­plain that it’s all re­heated left­overs. The scenes in Naomi Watts’s ru­ined lair- base can’t help but feel familiar if you saw Mock­ing­jay Part One a few months back, with Watts evok­ing Ju­lianne Moore’s ma­tri­arch in that film. Other scenes re­call Star Trek TV episodes of the ’ 80s and ’ 90s, with ster­ile hi- tech dé­cor and screens, and tri­als in VR en­vi­ron­ments – though th­ese al­low for In­sur­gent’s most im­pres­sive, vis­ceral images. One VR set­piece with Wood­ley chas­ing af­ter a burning house be­ing lifted high in the air is splen­didly imag­ined, with the low- tech cre­ative spirit of Terry Gil­liam’s Brazil.

Through­out the film, there’s a sturdy emo­tional strand – Tris’s dev­as­ta­tion at los­ing her par­ents, who reap­pear fre­quently to haunt her, and her fear that Jea­nine’s cam­paign is ac­tu­ally right; that Diver­gents are so­cial men­aces who leave de­struc­tion wher­ever they go. It may be el­e­men­tary, but this strand in­creas­ingly ties the film’s story to­gether, bet­ter than many other “se­rial” films. ( Tris’s angst will also play well to the teenage de­mo­graphic.) Shai­lene Wood­ley is strong again; as in Diver­gent, she plays Tris not as an iconic hero­ine like Kat­niss, but rather as an un­com­fort­able girl be­sieged by guilt, never se­cure with who she is –

The par­al­lels to the Hunger Games films are ob­vi­ous

some­thing re­flected in the way she gives her­self a brusque, hair- crop­ping makeover at the start.

Of the other char­ac­ters, Theo James’s Four has the usual pas­sively re­ac­tive boyfriend role you get in this kind of film, en­tirely up­staged by Watts as his sin­is­ter mum. ( There’s a su­per- awk­ward “I love to watch him sleep” mo­ment be­tween mother and girl­friend, play­ing shame­lessly to the fan­base.) Other sup­port­ing char­ac­ters have good arcs, es­pe­cially Miles Teller as the slith­ery Peter, who shifts with ev­ery breath of wind, and Ansel El­gort as Caleb, Tris’s painfully use­less brother. Winslet brings glam­our to the film, for all her char­ac­ter’s evil­ness – and Jea­nine is far more hands- on nasty than The Hunger Games’ ur­bane Pres­i­dent Snow.

In­deed, In­sur­gent helps es­tab­lish new, po­ten­tially con­tro­ver­sial, lev­els of vi­o­lence in 12A- rated films, even though that trail was blazed by The Hunger Games ( and su­per­hero

movies like The Dark Knight). There were more in­di­vid­ual vi­o­lent mo­ments in Mock­ing­jay ( also a 12A), but In­sur­gent has a star­tlingly sus­tained edge of vi­cious­ness and sav­agery, in­clud­ing head- butting and slam­ming; the shoot­ing of un­ex­pected char­ac­ters; brain­washed young­sters throw­ing them­selves off build­ings; and Winslet her­self per­form­ing deadly ex­per­i­ments on young test sub­jects, with over­tones of Josef Men­gele. Even the last- minute coda is vi­o­lent.

The end also prom­ises the world will change for the next film, Al­le­giant Part One. By the time that comes around the Hunger Games films will be over; will the Diver­gent se­ries fi­nally be able to emerge from Kat­niss Everdeen’s shadow?

“You were such a dick in The In­be­tween­ers Movie.”

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