Year Released: 2015
Directed by: Robert Schwenthke
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Miller Teller, Naomi Watts, Kate Winslet
(PG-13, 119 min.)
Genre: Drama, Action and Adventure, Romance, Science Fiction and Fantasy
“In times of peace the warlike man attacks himself.” Friedrich Nietzsche
Romance takes a back seat to glossy action and eye candy is this second installment of the Divergent franchise. We are entertained but not quite intrigued in this non-stop chase tour of the five-faction society.
It’s almost as though the director sees the story line as too thin to merit much examination, so he settles for a kick-butt race to the finish line without really exploring what we are racing to or from. Perhaps that is due to a conscious decision to diverge –excuse the pun – from Veronica Roth’s book and reinvent a film according to the template where Hollywood excels – high tech chase scenes and set pieces.
A quick Divergent refresher course - in the trilogy of YA books by Veronica Roth, and in the film franchise based on same, what's left of society is divided into five factions: Abnegation (the selfless), Amity (the peaceful), Candor (the honest), Dauntless (the brave), and Erudite (the intelligent). An underclass of the Factionless runs around, too, short on amenities - and tempers. Steven Rea
I won’t get mired in the plot; after all, the producers don’t either, but suffice it to say that Four (Theo James) and Tris (Shailene Woodley) deepen their commitment to each other, and maybe that is itself is a problem. The chemistry may still be there, but the sparks are not. I guess it’s that first stage of love, the uncertain tentative part that draws us in, not the more complacent assured second step.
Maybe the reason the chemistry seems almost as safe and tepid as a high school biology experiment is the predominance of the female role here. Four, still handsome, caring, brave, and all that, is really the girl here. He is the comforter, the one reacting to Tris’s proactive decisions and energy.
In fact, the Insurgent world is really one dominated by females. And they are almost classic in their form, too. Tris, of course, the female warrior with her keen intellect is Athena prepared for battle. While Kate Winslet’s Jeanine in her cold, calculating nihilism is rooted in the ancient shrew/witch mythology.
Octavia Spencer is the earth mother leader of Amity, the peaceful faction that makes up for its bland underpinnings by its gorgeous setting and overflowing abundance. A huge tree grows inside its dome city like a kindly nurturing elder. Somehow, Spencer’s Johanna has the acting chops that imbues her kindness with wisdom that overrides any clichés in the script.
Another new character, Naomi Watts’ Evelyn is the wild card here. She is Four’s “long dead” mother, now the leader of the Factionless Rebels. She wants Tris and Four to unite with her cause, but Four does not trust her. Is she down for the struggle or just jockeying for a position of power for herself?
Maybe the most intriguing character is Peter (Miles Teller), Tris’ old antagonist from Dauntless training, another wild card here. He is perhaps the only cast member who refuses to take the dogged serious tone the others do, his sneering sarcasm, casual betrayals and reversals, keep us off guard in a way the others do not. Actually, between these uneasy adversaries is where the sparks fly, Peter in his cynical way, understanding Tris more than anyone else. And, of course, using that knowledge for his own benefit. Yet, with everyone else so resolute and earnest, we almost welcome his snarky opportunism as a breath of fresh air.
So, go for the action:
A bloody bout in a moving train.
Dauntless bad guys streaming down zip lines like mechanical Spider Men on the prowl, when they are not chewing up the landscape and organic gardens at Amity in the relentless pursuit of Divergent rebels.
Virtual reality that masquerades as the real stuff to keep us off balance and then keeps us breathless even when we know it isn’t. Kind of a faux reality inside another one that is the film itself.
The celluloid images will draw you in for almost two hours, but they parade by like a dream that fades upon waking. A good show while it lasts, at least, but not too much more.
The Amity compound where Tris, Four, and the other Dauntless rebels take temporary sanctuary is a 60s commune without the grubby hippies, free love, or drugs. It is overflowing with ripe goodness and culinary glamor in the shining apples and fresh-baked loaves of bread – the Hollywood version of Michele Obama’s healthy lunches.
Tris and her cadre enjoy the food if not the exortation that goes with it: “Go with happiness,” recited in rote like the “Have a nice day,” cashier salutation that puts prickles in some spines.
I will dispense with any banalities, but only a great recipe that heralds from my hometown Chicago, the setting of our film. It is as delicious and almost as healthy as anything Amity could come up with, I am sure.
Portillo’s Chopped Salad from Chicago Recipe
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Yield: 6 meal servings, 10-12 side servings
Freshly chopped ingredients, tossed with a sweet Italian dressing. A copycat of Portillo's famous chopped salad. Serves well as a stand-alone meal or an accompanying side dish.
For the Salad:
1 cup Ditalini pasta (also called Salad Macaroni), cooked to al dente and cooled
3 to 4 large leafs of Romaine lettuce, washed, dried and chopped
Half head Iceburg lettuce, washed, dried and chopped
1 cup cooked and diced chicken breast
6 to 8 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 large tomato, seeded and diced
Half of a 10oz bag shredded red cabbage, chopped
1/2 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
3 stalks green onion, chopped
For the Sweet Italian House Dressing:
1/4 cup Balsamic vinegar
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon Oregano
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
For the Salad:
Combine all salad ingredients in a large bowl and toss.
For the Sweet Italian House Dressing:
Add all dressing ingredients, minus the olive oil, into a blender and pulse to combine. With the blender on low speed, gradually add the olive oil in a thin stream. Continue to blend until the dressing is combined and emulsified.
Pour half of the dressing into the salad bowl and toss to cover. Serve immediately. Reserve the rest of the dressing in the fridge for up to two weeks for other use.
Source: House Dressing recipe from Chicago Sun-Times
Shortcut ideas: It takes some time to chop up and prepare all of the ingredients. If time is of the essence, try these quick tips: 1) Make the dressing ahead of time and store in fridge, up to two weeks. 2) Use pre-cooked bacon (the real stuff, not bacon bits) or make this ahead as well. 3) Buy a bag of Dole salad mix and quick chop it. 4) Use pre-cooked chicken slices and chop.