Following the assault on Abnegation by Jeanine’s mind-controlled Dauntless faction, Insurgent picks up with Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James), and company having taken refuge on the outskirts of the city. Meanwhile, Jeanine is on the hunt for divergents, as they hold the key to opening a mysterious box left behind by the founders of the faction system. She believes that the box holds the key to the end of the divergent problem, and therefore will save the crumbling system. As a scramble for power ensues between the remains of different factions, Tris is searching for answers on what it means to be divergent.
The issue with Insurgent for me is that there is nothing blatantly unique about it. While I was watching the film, despite never having read the books, there was just a sense of familiarity about it. And not the good familiarity, like looking back on fond memories, but the familiarity of something that you have seen over and over again. I have often heard Hunger Games comparisons with the Divergent series’ post-apocalyptic setting and the division of society into different groups based off of their “purpose.” But it was more than these similarities that made the movie feel familiar.
It was the trope of the “chosen one” who was born into a purpose whether they want to fulfill it or not, similar to Harry Potter and even The Matrix. It was the strange simulation testing to find that one special person that can be pulled from a slew of science fiction films, though the one that comes to mind is Resident Evil: Revelations. It was the “everyone I love dies” story arc where the character pushes away those they care about in order to save them, which is a pinnacle of teen action romance. It was the “something left behind from those who came before” box that held a society-defining message, which immediately makes me think of the television series Fringe and the Assassin’s Creed game franchise.
The story feels like one day someone walked into an office, sat down on the corner of an intern’s desk, and said, “Make a post-apocalyptic teen romance series.” And when questioned for further details, the person simply just waved their hand lackadaisically and said, “You know… A post-apocalyptic teen romance series.” So with little to nothing to work with, and their job on the line, that intern pulled apart other popular series, threw in a dash a romance, sprinkled on some teen angst, added a post-apocalyptic environment, and BAM! We have the Divergent series.
Is this harsh? Yes. And I know that my opinion would likely be drastically different had I read the books. I feel that there are two experiences you can have with a book-turned-movie: you read the book and go see the movie to expand on the experience, or you do not read the book and only know what the movie tells you. As I am writing this review with the latter experience, I can only help but feel that the books are immensely more enjoyable. There is a belief I hold near to my heart that there are specific mediums for certain types of stories. Some stories require an interactive medium like video games for the full experience, and others need a visual medium to properly explore an environment. And there are some books that are better off as books, because your imagination can do far more with certain stories than a film ever will.
I feel the tagline for the movie will likely be, “Fans of the books enjoyed it,” because those fans went in with a wider vision given to them through author Veronica Roth’s words. If you are like me, and did not read the books, you might be left feeling unsatisfied, or even utterly indifferent, to this film.