The Real Problem With the Divergent Franchise

By  · Published on March 20th, 2015


This weekend marks the opening of Insurgent — better known as The Divergent Series: Insurgent, if you’re compelled to say whole mouthfuls of unnecessary words – the second film in the film franchise inspired by Veronica Roth’s bestselling book series of the same name. As successful as that series has been, Roth’s work has been consistently dinged for a number of its most basic elements, especially the vague sense that it’s really just a reworked Hunger Games (future dystopia, one chosen gal, lots of fighting, the similarities are certainly there and it’s silly to ignore them). Still, the franchise has its own dedicated fanbase (having attended the Insurgent premiere this week, I can personally testify to the depth of their commitment, as directly related to their desire to scream bloody murder at anything and everything related to the latest film) and the first film did reasonably well at the box office (it made nearly $300M in worldwide returns).

Of course, that all means one thing in Hollywoodland: splitting the series’ third and final book into two films, just as the Twilight, Harry Potter, and Hunger Games franchises have done in the past. This last, desperate cash grab has always felt like a confoundingly conspicuous attempt to keep a stranglehold on an eager audience. Sure, there have been some high notes – those last two Harry Potters made relative sense, and even the first Mockingjay managed to make its half a story more than watchable – but Allegiant (the final Divergent book) has a different problem from “oh, there’s not enough material here,” and one so prevalent that it threatens not just the final two films, but the integrity of the entire series.

Because, and there’s only one way to put this, Allegiant is terrible.

(Spoilers ahead.)

That Allegiant, published in October of 2013, is terrible isn’t some big secret. In fact, it’s a widely acknowledged opinion shared by not just critics of the series, but actual fans of Roth’s work. Having read – and genuinely enjoyed – Divergent, I was slightly disappointed by Insurgent, which doesn’t feel nearly as inventive or fresh as the first book (but still ends on an awesome cliffhanger). Still, I had high hopes for Roth’s final entry, if only because it promised to finally answer questions that had lingered for two entire books, big questions like, wait, what is actually going on here? and huh, who? and wait, why?. (The Hunger Games, on the other hand, never hid what was going on, and the momentum of the books and films drive towards what is going to happen, not what happened in the past.)

The first two books – and now, with the release of Insurgent, the first two films – present a future dystopia that is designed to keep people of different bents (factions) away from each other, a plan clearly put in action by someone else at some other point in time for some unknown reason. That’s the question of the entire series, the why and how and who that drive it, and fans of the series likely trusted that Roth knew where things were going and at least had some kind of plan in place, some clear backstory, some framework. That’s the promise of Allegiant: that we will finally have all the answers. Insurgent (the film) ends on an unexpectedly upbeat note, with the various members of the different factions breaking free from their walled city (also worth mentioning: when did everyone decide they hated their lives so much that they literally run away from them?) upon the release of a video (from a supposed founder) who explains that, once they have enough Divergents, the “experiment” they have been unwittingly participating in has been a success and it’s time to come outside. With the evolution of the upheaval-minded Tris (Shailene Woodley), it seems as if they have enough Divergents.

But what is actually going on here?

Allegiant may provide answers, but they’re muddled, confusing, weak, and (this is not a word I use lightly) stupid answers. They don’t make sense, and that Roth piles on twists and turns and scientific mumbo-jumbo and enough retcon to make even the most dedicated fan page back to see just what the hell she’s talking about when she finally “explains it” is not just disappointing, it’s anger-inducing.

Over at BuzzFeed, Kate Aurthur addresses the issues with Allegiant (and thus, the issues with Divergent and Insurgent) with a piece on some of the most mind-bendingly dumb things to spring from the final book. Things that we’re going to have to see in not just one, but two entire films.

Aurthur’s piece also directs us to a slew of negative reviews for the book, all of which were clearly written by passionate fans that were highly disappointed in the direction Roth took her material. Fans tend to get pretty involved with material like this, but the reviews that Aurthur dug up for her piece aren’t just frothy-mouthed takedowns by pissed acolytes, they’re actually extremely clear-eyed pieces of criticism that take down Allegiant in stunning manner. (This review, from Amazon user “Penny,” is particularly good, and one that effectively describes and dismantles the worst parts of Allegiant.)

Allegiant is so bad that it casts a shadow over the new Insurgent film (which is slightly better than the first film, and at least boasts fresh locations and amazing effects), and particularly its ending, as every character we have come to know and love runs towards a future that only holds disappointment and stupidity. Two more films of it, in fact.