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INSURGENT (2015) review

August 4, 2015

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written by: Brian Duffield, Akiva Goldsman and Mark Bomback
produced by: Douglas Wick, Lucy Fisher and Pouya Shabazian
directed by: Robert Schwentke
rating: PG-13 (for intense violence and action throughout, some sensuality, thematic elements and brief language)
runtime: 119 min.
U.S. release date: March 20, 2015
DVD/Blu-ray release date: August 4, 2015

 

“Insurgent” is roughly twenty minutes shorter than the franchise’s first, “Divergent”, but it drags, plods, and stretches to the point it feels double its length. Directionless and without narrative motive, large stretches are spent dramatically standing, moodily sitting, and, sometimes, occasionally, talking in slightly-raised voices. In high school, I knew a girl with a serious sleepwalking problem; I give her credit for cashing in, since there’s a good chance she’s transformed into this movie.

The narrative structure  of “Insurgent” could be called bold. There aren’t three acts, nothing strings one scene into the next, and most of the story follows a group of angry, shouting teens from one last-minute decision to the next. We don’t have a central plot so much as a meandering series of scenes, and the breadcrumb narrative jumps around so much it might have burned a thousand calories. It’s not bad so much as boring, leaving you the sad impression a movie made with twists and turns could feel so much like nothing’s happening. Vapid and joyless, “Insurgent” personifies the problems with the Hollywood sequel system by pumping out lifeless, artless films that hurt movie culture instead of help. 

 

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Shailene Woodley is back as everyone’s favorite unique snowflake, Tris Everdee—er, Prior. In “Divergent”, we learned she’s…divergent, or doesn’t fit into one of the five factions (Dauntless—warriors and daring, Erudite—smart and cold, Amity—pacifists and Earthy,  Candor—brutally honest, and Abnegation—selfless) that now make up society. She carries attributes of each faction, and since this time around we learn she’s 100% “divergent” (some “divergents” are only 10% while others can be 40%), she’s super duper ultra amazingly unique and that’s amazing.

If the point of the series’ premise isn’t to lock out people who vary from the norm, “Insurgent” contorts that theme into worshiping “super 100% unique people” above everybody else. Replacing elitism with elitism isn’t a sound theme to preach to anybody, especially the film’s young adult audience. 

Picking up where “Divergent” left off, Tris is on the run after a mini-revolution in future war-torn Chicago that saw one of the five factions destroyed. But this isn’t a chase movie. Made up mostly of dialogue so stiff Daniel Day-Lewis couldn’t bring it to life, the sequel sees itself following Tris and her gang of outlaws ping-pong balling between groups and factions, vaguely trying to assemble a revolution to bring down Erudite, the leaders of this society since they’re the smartest.

Based on the Veronica Roth best seller series, you either accept the allegorical premise or you don’t, but the rigidly absurd rules of the plot allow for little invention on tropes we’ve seen before. Segments are so similar to The Hunger Games—especially an industrial-heavy ‘underground revolution’ led by a determined Naomi Watts—that listening to Nine Inch Nails’ Copy of A is the only appropriate response: “copy of a copy of a copy of a…”  Danger comes from Erudite head Jeanine (Kate Winslet) possesses a secret cube that has the power to destroy divergents once and for all. But hazily defined superweapons aren’t scary, and neither is Kate Winslet in this movie. 

 

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Because “Divergent” featured its fair share of decent to above average set pieces, I expected the higher budgeted action to excite. I was wrong. Violence is frequent but action isn’t.

Director Robert Schwentke (“RED” and “R.I.P.D.”) uses short bursts of the old ultraviolence (including more than one point-blank head shot), but prolonged sequences of suspense or excitement are practically absent, a fatal error in a film that needed the shots of adrenaline to get you to the credits still awake. There’s one exception – a CGI-heavy ‘dream-sequence’ you’ve seen part of in every preview that suffers from diminishing returns; not from the previews so much as heavy riffing on “The Matrix” and “Inception”. No movie should make you wish you were watching a better one, but this sequel’s centerpiece sequence does. Elsewhere, an early film Bourne-style hand-to-hand combat scene is more likely to roll your eyes than get your heart pumping, having the inverse effect of Francis Lawrence taking on The Hunger Games series. 

“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” improved on its predecessor–and even its source book—in every area, making it an exciting and even excellent blockbuster. Improved scale, stakes, and action legitimized :The Hunger Games” series beyond the mere young adult trappings of the first film. “Insurgent” is a hollow imitator of what Neil Burger semi-successfully accomplished with the series’ franchise debut, where those three categories are gnawed out and hollow under the weight of its own importance. Logic plays so little a role in how things play out that it’s one of those movies I feel dumber for having seen it.

I had little in the way of fun and what emotion there was came squarely from Woodley’s endlessly expressive face. She’s a star in a product that doesn’t deserve her, and much the same can be said for Miles Teller’s grim-faced performance. “The Fault in Our Stars” co-star Ansel Elgort has a small, one note role, and, criminally, the same can be said for Oscar rank actresses Kate Winslet and Naomi Watts. Seeing post-apocalyptic Chicago was a highlight of Divergent, but here we barely see it. Another disappointment in a film full of them. 

 

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RATING: *1/2

 

 

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