Review: The Divergent Series: Insurgent (2015)

The Divergent Series: Insurgent

Rating

Director
Robert Schwentke
Screenplay
Brian Duffield, Akiva Goldsman, Mark Bomback (Novel: Veronica Roth)
Length
119 min.
Starring
Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet, Jai Courtney, Mekhi Phifer, Ansel Elgort, Miles Teller, Octavia Spencer, Zoe Kravitz, Ben Lloyd-Hughes, Tony Goldwyn, Ashley Judd, Ray Stevenson, Jonny Watson, Naomi Watts, Maggie Q, Daniel Dai Kim
MPAA Rating
PG-13 for intense violence and action throughout, some sensuality, thematic elements and brief language

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Review
As their society crumbles around them, Tris Prior must lead a band of divergents across a vast wasteland of corruption and danger in the meandering sequel Insurgent.

In the future, trapped within a protective wall of unknown origin, five factions come together to create a subsistence society where being more than the faction of which you are a part can lead to ostracization or worse. At the end of the prior outing, Divergent, Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) and her compatriot Four (Theo James) lead a small group of survivors of a failed raid of the Dauntless complex and the Erudite stronghold outside of the city for refuge with the meek Amity faction.

This film opens as they fight amongst themselves to survive in seclusion and safety despite animosity between Tris and traitor Peter (Miles Teller). As the now-unified members of Dauntless and Erudite arrive in Amity to locate and secure divergents, those who can think, act and feel outside their faction’s strictures. This forces Tris and company to depart quickly and become embroiled in a building conflict between the factionless, led by Evelyn (Naomi Watts), and the Erudite, led by Jeanine (Kate Winslet). All this plays out as Jeanine attempts to open a small box containing untold information secreted away by Tris’ parents before their deaths.

When Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games franchise became the star of the box office, and even before that the stars of the Twilight series, it wasn’t long before other tween-targeted dystopian novels began cropping up. Last year, the Divergent series began in earnest with a compelling, but poorly constructed film based on the first novel in Veronica Roth’s popular book trilogy. As the second film proves, Tris isn’t the well-rounded, complicated lead Summit was hoping would make them boatloads of money.

Tris is emotionally conflicted, torn between the faction system she’s grown up in and her inner divergent nature. As she struggles to understand why she’s different, Insurgent tumbles each piece into place to create a mosaic that’s far beyond anything the audience would have guessed from the beginning. Woodley’s a talented actress. Her performance in The Descendants should have garnered her an Oscar nomination, but the material here is far below her capabilities, leading her to create a wistful, energetic personality that seems lost beyond what her character should already be. She makes Tris strong and complicated, but never deeply so. She conveys superficial emotional responses to every situation and struggles to bring the audience to a point where they believe she’s anything more than “movie strong,” the kind of strong that relies more on pre-built tropes than on actual acting capabilities.

With the first film, it seemed like James had a lot of dramatic potential. Four was a fascinating, nuanced character with subsurface emotional tribulations brewing beyond the boiling point. Here, the character has devolved into a one-note, worry-wort whose concern for Tris is less an organic result of careful craft than it is an element mandated by the screenplay.

The story drudges from point A to point B without a reasonable excitement. Tension gives way to inevitability and all the compelling narrative threads that were constructed in the first film become tired and elongated, never finding a satisfying conclusion. Screenwriters Brian Duffield, Akiva Goldsman and Mark Bomback deserve a great deal of scorn for their thin, lifeless work.

The dystopian elements, crafted by production designer Alec Hammond are among the film’s highlights, bringing us into this dilapidated world in way that was only lightly conceived in the first film. Broad, bountiful technology is balanced with unconstructed piles of rubble. He creates a fractured city whose ambitions are far beyond what is entirely capable. Pockets of refinement can’t entirely push out the areas of destruction and that dichotomy helps flesh out the differences between the many factions in ways the script seems incapable.

While the original Divergent was not much better than this film, there are so many moments in Insurgent where you wonder just how much more could have been done by a director more skilled than Robert Schwentke. This is a paint-by-numbers adventure designed to maximize the excitement of the series’ fans and impressionable teen audiences rather than something that challenges them to think outside their narrow world view. This is the exact opposite reaction of a film like The Hunger Games where abject villainy is better handled and more palpable painting a far more evocative picture of dystopian ideals.

Whether the next two films in the franchise, the ill-advised split of the final boot Allegiant, can overcome the hobbled foundation established in the first two films remains to be seen. However, from the groundwork so far laid, it’s become clear that the writers, director and producers just don’t care. As long as they can earn a nice pile of cash, foregoing competent filmmaking is far from necessary.
Oscar Prospects
None

Review Written

May 13, 2015

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