The Creative Fall of a Movie Franchise: How Insurgent Could Destroy the Divergent Movie Series
“Divergent,” the catalyst for this once promising franchise, was not exactly a critical darling. Rotten Tomatoes gave an average of 5.4 out of ten compiling the reviews of 196 movie critics. But people still thought enough of the film and the book that inspired it to the tune of 288.7 million dollars in revenue (it cost about 85 million to make). And if you loved that first book, at least the movie stayed true to that story, making only a handful of changes.
But after seeing the sequel earlier this week, I sure hope these same elements that determine a movie’s success will all come together in a rare occurrence of unity and purpose and declare this miserable attempt at entertainment a failure. Two of the three of these elements are already in place as negative reviews for the movie are already trickling in. And devoted book readers will find themselves, as my wife did throughout this picture, saying “That wasn’t in the book,” significantly more than any movie that claims to be based on a novel should be allowed to. Now if only the rest of you out there can make it a trifecta of motion picture failure and make this a box office flop in line with “Waterworld” and “The Long Ranger.”
In order to better analyze all the places where “Insurgent” failed as a movie, I will break them down into four significant reasons why “Divergent’s” sequel was so terrible.
1. Ignoring the Source Material Entirely
As someone who is familiar with numerous books that become movies or television series, I realize that not everything on book pages works well on screen. Some creative liberties have to be taken to both keep the movie or television show entertaining and allow for non-book readers the chance to follow the story without having to read the books. But there is a difference between taking “creative liberties” and discarding the story in the book entirely. Director Robert Schwenke’s vision (that is too nice a word to use to describe the man’s work on this film) for “Insurgent” bears no resemblance to Veronica Roth’s novel. And I do not have a problem with some changes to a story when they ultimately get to the same place the source material intended. Game of Thrones and the Lord of the Rings movies take some liberties to move their stories and transfer them over to their different mediums more effectively. But the end results that define those literary works are largely the same. Not this ending!!!! The major twist that ends Roth’s second book is completely discarded for some Kum-bay-yah crap that gives you no reason to see either of the remaining sequels (that’s right, there are two more of these). Also in this movie, there are devices created to determine how divergent one truly is. Once again, that is not in the books and it is just as horrible as it sounds (very similar to the Star Wars prequels and their introduction of the concept of Metaclorians to determine one’s potential as a Jedi). Making changes that aid a written work’s adaptation to the big screen is one thing. But to completely trash the plot of your source material for your own story, which is neither creative or entertaining, as Schwentke does with “Insurgent,” is inexcusable.
2. Lazy, Cliché Filled Scriptwriting
While watching “Insurgent,” a picture in my mind developed of a large book that sits in every Hollywood Studio’s meeting room. This large book is filled with all the overused clichés that Hollywood makes a regular part of their movies. When writers are putting together their scripts and run out of things to say, they consult this manual to fill in those blanks in their scripts. I believe “Insurgent” was written entirely from the electronic version of this manual as the writers copied and pasted entire scenes from this manual onto their computers.
3. Lack of Development of the Minor Characters
The only problem for “Insurgent” that can be linked back to the first movie is right here. The backbone of Roth’s story is the main character, Tris and the relationships she builds with the various people she interacts with. These relationships help guide Tris through all the difficult situations she must endure as she loses her parents and becomes a wanted fugitive. The problem is that in the first movie, these important characters were either not introduced or relegated to the role of an extra. The result is random scenes like when a tall, African American male has a meaningful conversation about the direction of things on a roof with Tris. Because I read the books, I figured out the young man’s name was Uriah. In the books, Uriah was a born dauntless who helped Tris become accepted by her new Dauntless faction. But moviegoers haven’t seen that important relationship develop, taking away all meaning from this conversation. In the books, certain characters who Tris gets to know die. These losses have an emotional impact because of her previous experiences with them and that impacts the story. When similar deaths happen in the movie, we have little (if any) idea about who these characters are, significantly lessening the impact of their loss. If the structure of a motion picture didn’t allow for the proper character development that Roth’s work demanded, then maybe the Divergent series should have gone the route of a television show. Because when you remove those relationships from the equation, you’re left with actions taken by Tris that lose their effectiveness because of the essential nature of those relationships to explain Tris’s actions.
4. Poorly explained plot devices
In a story where the Erudite faction wants to take over and rule all the other factions, it makes sense that the smart ones of the Divergent post-apocalyptic world should be able to create devices that make it easier for them to take over. But being that this is the faction of the intelligent, you think they would be able to explain how these devices do the random things they do. But each little gadget the scholars over at Erudite create come with little or no explanation for how it does what it does. And since these gadgets don’t need explaining for how they work, then why do they need explaining for how the protagonists overcome the obstacles these gadgets present? An audience develops respect for the heroes of a story because of the strength of will or intelligence they use in overcoming the forces working against them. The way these obstacles are developed and overcome during “Insurgent” creates no reason for the audience to respect the heroes or the villains.
You may have noticed that I did not include the cast as one of the problems with “Insurgent.” You may have heard that Four’s mother looks the same age as him. Well if you haven’t heard, FOUR’S MOTHER LOOKS THE SAME AGE AS HIM. Only in the Justin Timberlake movie where nobody ages past 25 and they have to purchase time to live past that is that acceptable. While that casting decision was extremely poor, Shailene Woodley is acceptable as Tris (though some of her “intense” facial expressions may become the subject of some ridiculous memes in the future). And Kate Winslett (though we don’t see enough of her) is Kate FREAKING Winslett, owning the role of Jeanine like she does everything else she’s been in. But if you compare it to Hunger Games (which cost $15 million more to make) with Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Phillip Seymour Hoffman (RIP), Julianne Moore, Donald Sutherland, Stanley Tucci, Natalie Dormer, and other minor characters who fit their roles perfectly, the Divergent series just seems subpar. But at least after the first movie, there was hope for book fans of a movie that would give life to the story they love. “Insurgent” shatters that hope several times over, ignoring both the major plot points and relationship developments of Roth’s series. And while box office success may still be achievable, I really hope not. For the last thing Summit Entertainment and Lionsgate (the studios backing these films) need is vindication to be just as lazy for the two sequels of this series as they were with “Insurgent.”
(This article was written by Jeff Merrick.)