'The Divergent Series: Insurgent'
On a certain level, it makes sense that the explosion of Young Adult movie adaptations would follow a similar redundant track that YA novels always have. Anytime a YA novel hits, the Scholastic book order forms for a generation of school children are filled with knockoffs of that hit until the next unexpected phenomenon. So, now that the ‘Twilight’ series and ‘Twilight’ knockoffs have passed, it’s time for us all to sit through the endless somber streak of ‘Hunger Games’ knockoffs until this trend runs its course.
The ‘Divergent’ series is thus far the biggest and most expensive version of ‘Hunger Games Lite’, and the second movie in the four-part trilogy (in keeping with that unfortunate greedy franchise wrap-up trend) plays like a Xerox of the last ‘Hunger Games’ sequel. It certainly looks the same and feels the same, but as with any photocopy, the quality can never quite match the original.
Things kick off right where the first movie left off, with Tris (Shailene Woodley’s version of Katniss) and her muscly boyfriend Four (Theo James) getting blamed by the world’s evil leader Kate Winslet for the battle that Winslet actually caused herself. (Note: she’s a jerk.) There’s no point in getting too in depth about this dystopic future where everyone is assigned a social group designed around an adjective. The premise is pretty obviously a simple class warfare allegory with a message about individuality triumphing over the system, man. The ideas are fine, particularly for the target ‘tween audience, but they’ve been garbled up endlessly before now in many other stories involving dark futures filled with people wearing monochromatic onesies. (Shudder.) Besides, ‘Insurgent’ doesn’t have much in the way of subtext. All that stuff was dealt with last time so that this sequel can be all about rebellion.
Tris is on the run this time and ends up finding safety with her bodacious boyfriend’s revolutionary mommy (Naomi Watts), who we know we can’t trust based on her thick slathering of black eyeliner alone. Tris has to decide if she really wants to bring down the system through bang-bang violence. Meanwhile, President Jeanine (Winslet) has some sort of secret box that she needs a Divergent to solve, so she’s hunting them all down and watching them die as they struggle to open the box. Guess which Divergent she needs to make it happen? If you were going to guess the protagonist and only true Divergent we’ve been introduced to in the series so far, good for you for paying attention. I’m sure it was hard given how dull and generic these movies are.
The major difference between ‘Insurgent’ and the original ‘Divergent’ is scale. After that last flick made a bundle at the box office, the filmmakers were clearly given a massive budget for the sequel. Semi-indie director Neil Burger (‘The Illusionist’, ‘Limitless’) was kicked to the curb in favor of big dumb explosion specialist Robert Schwentke (‘RED’, ‘R.I.P.D.’). And whoo-boy did he ever blow things up! The movie is filled with crumbling buildings, shoot-outs and CGI fantasy scenes to remind audiences that they’re watching a big expensive movie that they should be super-duper excited about.
The trouble is that very little happens that’s worth getting excited about. The characters are so bland and obvious, and the story beats so conventional, that it’s hard to ever feel any suspense or excitement. It also doesn’t help that the revolutionary plot feels like a carbon copy of the ‘Hunger Games’ movie that we all just saw a few months ago. This isn’t a horrible or horribly-made movie; it just feels like a big expensive studio exercise of going through the motions of past successes.
The movie has one thing going for it, though: Shailene Woodley. With only a handful of movies to her name, it’s already clear that Woodley is a major talent who is only getting better with each role. She might not have much of a character to work with in ‘Insurgent’, but she makes it seem as though she has a character through talent and sheer force of will. The same could also be said of Winslet, Watts and Miles Teller (who has a reduced role this time, presumably because he’s all famous and successful now).
Unfortunately, talented actors can’t make a movie work on their own. When surrounded by deadweight model/actors, a completely generic sci-fi world, and a plot compiled from the clichés of better movies and books, there’s nothing Woodley, Winslet, Watts and Teller can do to make ‘Insurgent’ feel like anything more than a dull factory product. This series is dead weight clinging to the success of ‘The Hunger Games’. At least by the time the credits roll in ‘Insurgent’, we can all take comfort in knowing that this franchise is halfway over.