Movie Review (Movie Trilogy: DIVERGENT, INSURGENT, and ALLEGIANT)

I recently watched the DIVERGENT trilogy movies, DIVERGENT (2014), INSURGENT (2015), and ALLEGIANT (2016). Based on the DIVERGENT book trilogy for young adults by Veronica Roth, they’re fun post Apocalypse dystopian action flicks with a good message: authoritarianism is bad and diversity is good, even vital, for humanity. And British actor Theo James as the male lead (named Tobias Eaton, a.k.a. “Four”) is sincere and luscious to behold. He pleasantly adds to the array of neat visuals in these screen dramas.

A central concept in the series is that of factions, which people in a 23rd century, post world war Chicago have to live within. Those who do not test well for any particular faction are rendered “factionless,” societal rejects who exist as the city’s itinerant homeless. Then, there are the “Divergents,” whose temperaments and abilities qualify them for fitting well into more than one faction. They are mentally and emotionally flexible and adaptive, which threatens the social fabric of this future society’s rigidly ordered culture. The five large groupings of people by personality type and aptitude is an interesting way to explore the tensions of conformity and belonging on one hand and individualism, personal liberty, and freedom of self expression on the other. The narrative’s explicit bias here is that the latter three attributes are more important, the other two being most valued by oppressive authoritarian thinkers and leaders.

The movies focus on Beatrice (“Tris”) Prior (Shailene Woodley), a teenaged Divergent, and her romantic involvement with Four (Tobias). Tris initially does her best to fit into her newly chosen faction, Dauntless, which comprises the police and military portion of the population. Their main job is to protect Chicago, ensuring that no outsider comes through its distant surrounding wall. Ms. Woodley, who was about twenty-two to twenty-four years old during actual filming, looks the part and straightforward and compelling in her role. I found the character of Tris to be lacking in depth and complexity. However, she is sufficiently sympathetic and compelling to carry the movie, particularly with the more mature, gritty, and complex character of Four by her side lending his gravitas and sex appeal.

Much of the series is basically a cat-and-mouse suspense drama whereby two young adults navigate the increasingly oppressive faction system with the ultimate intention of dismantling it. The final, comparatively weaker, movie goes even further than this after Tris, Four, and a few of their peers discover beyond Chicago a far more advanced society built upon the ruins of O’Hare International Airport. Without giving too much of the story away, we viewers learn that, from afar, a calculating scientist named David (Jeff Daniels) has been monitoring the population of Chicago, its residents a post war genetic experiment. Tris and Four must outsmart and thwart David and his sinister designs against the only place they’ve ever known as home.

I appreciated the supporting cast, particularly Kate Winslet as villainess Jeanine Matthews, who heads up Erudite, the faction comprising scholars and scientists. With her often dead-pan expressions and sanitized professional look, she ruthlessly maneuvers Erudite to become the governing faction over all of Chicago in place of the Abnegation (selfless and ever-serving others) faction, from which Tris and Four had been born and raised. It was fun to see Ms. Winslet play someone so cold and calculating. I’m sure she appreciated this role after years of often portraying sympathetic leading ladies.

Two other supporting cast members are worth a special mention here. The always lovely and interesting Octavia Spencer plays Johanna Reyes, the faction leader of Amity, who are the ever kind and peace-loving farmers within this mostly urban society. Her scenes are short and limited to the second and third movies, but Ms. Spencer lends her no-nonsense, wise presence to a character that would otherwise be far less memorable in someone else’s hands. Maggie Q as Tori Wu is another particularly gritty female. She is the first to identify Tris as a Divergent and becomes a close ally to the heroine. Tori is beautiful with a tough exterior, developed through painful losses, yet she’s tender just beneath the surface. It was good to see her among so many strong female characters, most of them sympathetic.

Initially, a fourth and final film, ASCENDANT, was planned but scrapped due to a large decrease in box office revenue for ALLEGIANT compared to the first two movies. Producers floated the idea of a television production of this fourth installment. This was rejected by the primary actors, who felt they had not signed up for a lackluster conclusion to such blockbuster projects. Apparently, interest in young adult science fiction movie series had significantly declined by 2016, after a slew of them (such as THE HUNGER GAMES franchise) had been made up to that time. To my relief, ALLEGIANT felt like a tolerable, decent enough conclusion to the story arc even though I saw how it could have gone further. In particular, tensions clearly remained between Chicago with its largely genetically “damaged” people and the more genetically “pure” led society out beyond. I imagine a war or some smaller scale, but equally dramatic, conflict was in the offing to occur within ASCENDANT. But, honestly, I’m fine that this didn’t happen. The villainous David seemed like an annoying, smug bureaucrat rather than an intriguing bad guy I wanted to keep watching. I felt fine with no longer seeing more of him. And since real life is open-ended with a mix of resolutions and ongoing change and challenges, I felt satisfied over where and how the DIVERGENT trilogy ended. We viewers are left to draw our own conclusions if we so feel the need.

Clearly, the DIVERGENT series is largely light fare, where a lot of character development does not occur. The story arc is derivative of other post Apocalypse writings and is simplified for young adult readers and viewers. That said, the screenplays are a little thought provoking in places and generally a lot of fun, particularly the first two films DIVERGENT and INSURGENT.

4 thoughts on “Movie Review (Movie Trilogy: DIVERGENT, INSURGENT, and ALLEGIANT)

  1. LOL I think this is the first time I’ve read one of your reviews about films I’ve seen! I enjoyed the first two and thought the third was abysmal. I agree with everything you’ve said about them. I thought Four was the most interesting of any of the characters (not only because the actor was very good and happens to be quite handsome) because unlike Tris who was born “divergent,” Four chose to become divergent. Such potential for complex character development. Now I’m kinda hungry to watch some more dystopian films! I’ve read tons of dystopian novels but haven’t seen a good film for a while. Perhaps time for a Matrix binge :).

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    1. It was unclear to me whether or not Four himself was actually Divergent or not. The way he behaved, right down to having tattoos of all the faction symbols on his body, had me thinking he himself was Divergent. However, he never mentioned being so and some info. online explained how he wasn’t, particularly since he’s “damaged” genetically. (However, I would think someone could technically be both Divergent and “damaged.” Genetics are quite complex.) That did make me admire his character more, how he chose to embrace Divergents, support them and their cause. He was the most fleshed-out human character in the whole series, though other ones were sympathetic and interesting too.

      I look forward to hearing what dystopian films you watch and especially end up enjoying. I thought Terry Gilliam’s 1985 movie BRAZIL was particularly interesting.

      The MATRIX movies are fun to me in terms of fascinating visuals and action scenes, but I don’t find the main character particularly compelling.

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      1. I think it was in the first film when he showed his tattoos to Tris, he said he wasn’t “divergent” but wanted to be. I assumed this is why he put the tattoos on (aside from the desire to distance himself from his father). And, yes, I think it was one of many flaws in the film’s logic of biases that the message was that one could not be wholly divergent 100% unless they were genetically “undamaged,” Tris being the only person from the Chicago experiment that was.

        I agree about the Matrix series, but I thoroughly enjoy the mindbendingness of it (and I’m certain it was an influence for the Divergent series). I haven’t seen Brazil…perhaps I’ll add that to my list. I don’t think I actually have a favorite among those I’ve seen (most of my dystopian fascination has been through reading novels). Of course I loved Wall-e. Thought Bladerunner was quite good. Truly enjoyed Metropolis, but the best watching of all was somewhere in Cambridge I think when they showed it with live music which wildly influenced the experience. I hated Clockwork Orange, but I think that’s because I knew the novel so well and had taught it many times before I actually saw the film (in those cases, the films are usually a disappointment to me even if they’re really well done). On my current list to see (as I recall) are Gattaca, Dark City, and Akira. I never saw The Lobster and haven’t decided whether I want to. My friend Duncan, who is about as dark and cynical as a person can get, told me it really distressed and depressed him which suggests it would definitely be a poor choice for me.

        I am delighted that some of the films I missed on the theatre go-round are streaming now. I watched Knives Out last night (quite enjoyable), and am planning to watch The Lighthouse, Seberg, and Gretl and Hansel, all of which you reviewed :).

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I look forward to hearing what you think of those other films I reviewed, after you’ve watched them.

        WALL-E was wonderful. BLADERUNNER was a mixed bag for me, very dreary, which was a main intention in the film, but made for challenging watching. GATTACA was interesting, not exactly great, but intriguing in places. DARK CITY was fun and interesting, also dreary, which goes with the territory of a lot of post-Apocalyptic movies. One needs to be in the right head space to view these dark-themed movies. I’ve heard about THE LOBSTER and it also sounded interesting. However, if it upset and distressed a deeply cynical friend of yours, that too gives me pause about viewing the film.

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