Though marketed as a kid sister to “The Hunger Games” franchise, right down to its optimistic four-film release strategy, Summit’s “Divergent” series boasts a significantly different narrative arc from that of Suzanne Collins’ girl-power trilogy.
The story raises the stakes for Tris (Shailene Woodley) as she searches for allies and answers in theruins of a futuristic and dystopian Chicago. Tris and Four (Theo James) are now fugitives on the run, hunted by Jeanine (Kate Winslet), the leader of the power-hungry Erudite elite. Racing against time, they must find out what Tris’s family sacrificed their lives to protect, and why the Erudite leaders will do anything to stop them. Haunted by her past choices but desperate to protect those she loves, Tris, with Four at her side, faces one impossible challenge after another as they unlock the truth about the past and ultimately the future of their world.
Tris, Four, and her remaining allies are on the run from ruthless Jean Matthews, and her Erudite faction, where they take refuge at the Amity stronghold. While there, Tris learns that the Erudites are gaining power and decides that she must fight them, despite her inner fears and understands how to protect her home.
This film, the second chapter, based on the series of Veronica Roth’s novels, sports a new director and screenwriters, allowing it to gain in rhythm and variety. Yet it repeats much of what has already been seen in Divergent.
In place of Neil Burger’s seesawing direction in Divergent, the German director, Robert Schwentke, is comfortable behind the camera with the action genre following Red. He’s also anxious to live down the R.I.P.D. flop. However, one can surmise that the experience Schwentke gathered from using the visual effects in R.I.P.D., came to the rescue here. Insurgent is more pleasantly packaged and original than Divergent. At least, it’s more like a real show on a big screen: the coordination between director and CGI is solid and generates some quite interesting and suggestive sequences, in aesthetic terms.
The greater variety of locations and situations of the story help Schwentke. Divergent was more static. With its movements and visits to other factions, one doesn’t feel the length of this two-hour film; there is less time to suffer the slight resemblance to Hunger Games. The plot stretches on and turns to predictable coups de théâtre. Sometimes they’re forced, yet the immediate simplicity of the young very down-to-earth and easygoing Shailene Woodley, freshened by her new haircut, now with a more aggressive Miley Cyrus look, works so well in many situations of this young-adult action film.
Tris’ coming-of-age crisis finds literal expression when, in one of the drug-induced simulations that Jeanine subjects her to, she’s forced to treat herself gently, and in the process turns her intended torture into a lesson in self-forgiveness. However heavy-handed that sequence may be, it’s in the simulation episodes that Schwentke and cinematographer Florian Ballhaus, whose work is supple throughout, pull out the big VFX guns, creating extraordinary hallucinatory visuals that range from abstract imagery to the suspenseful journey of a burning house floating above an imploding city. In these scenes, the otherwise pointless 3D lends a subtle depth.
Contributing to the appreciation, the participation of newcomer Naomi Watts and again Kate Winslet, the severe villain, live up to what they’re paid for, bringing charisma and authority to the film.
The director imparts his knowledge of photography and literature to us. Even if only a handful of viewers notice, references to photography abound: Henri Cartier Bresson’s Prison in the fight scene on the train, Tim Hetherington’s Sleeping Soldiers, while Tris is sleeping in jail waiting for Jeanine, Mad Men’s opening theme when Tris is falling from the tops of skyscrapers during the simulation. Masterful is the final quote form Riverworld, the five-novel literary series by the American writer Philip José Farmer.
FILM REVIEW by Lorenzo Lars Vallot, New York