Review: Divergent & Insurgent Movies

As much as I have resisted reading Veronica Roth’s Divergent series, I want everyone to keep in mind that I went into this endeavor solely due to the fact that the second movie, Insurgent, released nationwide this month. Our blog is still new and we need to be relevant! — or so I argued to Chebk when she made many sad faces and heavy sighs about having to read the series. (Important note: She was not alone but it turns out that I am probably masochistic.) A YA phenomenon this popular deserves to be looked at by more than its target audience because it is important to analyze what messages and representation are being consumed most voraciously.

…Still, if you have been following my and Chebk’s reviews of Divergent (1, 2) and Insurgent, you will know that we are not exactly impressed with quite a few things in the series, diversity foremost among these attributes. Which is why it is with much wonder and some shame that I must say:

I was thoroughly entertained by both movie versions of the first two books.

insurgent
Now, before I can be completely discredited, I still stand by the opinion that the basic world-building premise of the series is just ridiculous. However, the movies streamline the books to its advantage, cutting unnecessary subplots and a lot of the side characters that served only to confuse and clutter the written narrative. This is most notable in Insurgent, as opposed to Divergent, which follows the book version pretty closely.

The film version of Divergent had a few things going for it from the beginning. For one, we are not in Tris Prior’s headspace, save for the beginning and ending monologues (which I noticed they thankfully cut for the second film). Much like Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games series (to which Divergent is inevitably always going to be compared), the film version works precisely because we get a larger view of the world and story than just the protagonist’s frantic inner torment.

Speaking of visuals, some things I enjoyed seeing included: the varied fashion choices within each faction’s chosen color-coding (kudos Costume Design team), the broken down city of Chicago in all its bombed-out glory, the attempt at background diversity (more on this later), and Theo James’ glorious self. (Keep in mind that I am a lesbian and this speaks volumes to Theo James.)

Whatever, whatever, don’t judge.

While Divergent kept pretty close to the book (with some updates and omissions, both which I applaud, e.g. replacing the paintball guns with weapons that simulate real gun-shot wounds), Insurgent was a wild ride of radical changes that helped in some places and decimated in others. It was as if someone read the original novel and just said to the entire movie team, “Nah.”

Spoilers behind the cut.

The movie pretty much picks up where the last movie left off, exactly like the book. We’re introduced to Tris’s post-traumatic stress right away (remember she has witnessed the death of both her parents as they fought to protect her, and she was forced to kill a friend when he attempted to murder her while under an Erudite mind-control) and the nightmares as visuals mesh well with the various dream-like simulations Tris must later overcome.

Without the weird inner monologues about how much Tris fears Four/Tobias, the romantic relationship actually holds up the film and is both sweet and seemingly emotionally healthy. Unlike his book counterpart, Four doesn’t see Tris as strong enough to not need his support or compassion. Someone also seems to have seen the need to cut both the excessive and inappropriate make-out sessions AND the excessive lying to one another in the book. The result is both a healthier representation of a teenage heterosexual romance and far less frustration on the viewer’s part. There is enough of that with wars and uprisings and other betrayals.

Now let's talk about this box thing.
Now let’s talk about this box thing.

The rest is just a weirdly new subplot involving a secret box (not kidding) that entails a 100% Divergent going through a series of simulation tests (I am not making up that 100% part; the book didn’t even try to make up that 100% part), and also a lot of Kate Winslet making Cold Bitch faces at colorful screens (which, what are you even doing in this series, Kate Winslet? Why? Do you need financial help? How can we set you free?).

Media representation in this series is still very poor. Yes, Maggie Q’s Tori is still present (barely) but her entire revenge story has been cut, negating the entire need for her presence at all. Zoe Kravitz’s Christina also gets little time to chew over her major storyline (anger at Tris over Will’s death), seemingly forgiving Tris off-screen somewhere along the line. Daniel Dae Kim and Octavia Spencer are welcome additions as the leaders of Candor and Amity respectively but neither is given much to do at all except brood near glass windows (the former) and claim Amity as neutral without the important peaceful protest scenes towards the end (the latter). There are still a lot of nameless diverse faces in the crowd, but they’re background noise, a poor justification for a racially diverse cast.

Additionally, one of the major disabilities representation in the character of Edward has been replaced by Edgar without it really mattering. Why take away his eyepatch and lost eye if it doesn’t matter anyway?

Yes, tell them, Kate Winslet. Tell them.
Yes, tell them, Kate Winslet. Tell them.

In all, the movies are enjoyable, possibly because they are the lite version of the books, which removes a lot of the exposition, pointless filler, and worrisome logic. But, also, mostly, they give us the film version of Eric who is basically Macklemore:

eric
Will I be watching the next two movies? Probably. But I will still be wading through Allegiant, the last book in the main trilogy and reviewing it later this week. Hope you stick around for the last of my agony, readers. See you soon!

Will I be watching the next two movies? Probably. But I will still be wading through Allegiant, the last book in the main trilogy and reviewing it later this week. Hope you stick around for the last of my agony, readers. See you soon!

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