In a world divided into strict Factions, the non-conformist ‘divergents’ Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Tobias ‘Four’ Eaton (Theo James) are on the run after standing up to faction leader Jeanine (Kate Winslet). But she will stop at nothing to track them down.
There’s really only one problem with the Divergent series, and that is that the premise makes not a lick of sense. And the more you think about it, the less sense a humanity divided into factions based on five cardinal virtues makes, so the film strains to hold its own plot together. That it works as well as it does is almost entirely down to Shailene Woodley, giving complexity and depth to tortured heroine Tris.
We rejoin the story only days after the events of the first film, with Kate Winslet’s Jeanine waging a propaganda war against the fugitive Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James). The pair are engaged in a slightly anaemic love affair, the sort of film relationship where both keep huge and fundamental secrets from the other. They have taken refuge with the Amish-ish Amity faction led by Octavia Spencer’s Johanna, but when Dauntless goon Eric (Jai Courtney) comes hunting them, they’re forced back into the city and its politics.
This outing also introduces us to Daniel Dae Kim’s Candour faction and Naomi Watts' Evelyn, leader of the formerly shunned Factionless, further complicating the set-up. The depth of talent in that supporting cast is impressive, even if they largely appear for a scene or two at most; Ray Stevenson barely gets a line. The film largely relies on design to differentiate the Factions and help us keep track of what’s going on, so Amity is based in a sort of Grand Designs eco-home, the Factionless look like Mad Max rejects painted by an Old Master and baddies Erudite live in an Apple store.
The plot unfolds steadily and largely satisfactorily, but it is one-note: the stakes are always life or death and the only person to demonstrate a sense of humour is Miles Teller’s ratfink Peter. But Woodley at least brings the guilt-ridden Tris to life, and her conviction carries the rest of the film in her wake.
Once you swallow the giant pill that is the premise, it just about makes sense, and Woodley sells it with all her conviction.