Rating: 6.5 out of 10
Shailene Woodley as Tris
Directed by Robert Schwentke
A solid cast and cool action make “The Divergent Series: Insurgent” worth checking out, especially if you’re a fan of the books. But less world building and questionable decisions by the lead characters make it a tad less enjoyable than its predecessor, “Divergent.”
This movie is based on the book by Veronica Roth and is the sequel to the 2014 film “Divergent.”
After escaping from Jeanine and the Erudite faction, Tris, Four, Caleb, and Peter go into hiding amid the Amity faction. While they temporarily find safety there, Tris becomes plagued by guilt and has nightmares about the deaths of her friends and family. Increasingly tortured, she believes the only resolution is to kill Jeanine and end her coup.
Meanwhile, Jeanine and the other Erudites discover a mysterious box hidden by Tris’ late mother Natalie. Obsessed with obtaining the secrets within, Jeanine will do anything to open it. However, she needs a Divergent human to successfully unlock it. Jeanine sends Eric and Max on a relentless manhunt across all of the factions for Tris and any other Divergent. As the stakes are raised, loyalties will be tested, lives will be lost, and Tris’ world will never be the same.
“Insurgent” is rated PG-13 for intense violence and action throughout, some sensuality, thematic elements and brief language.
I went into “Insurgent” relatively cold. I never read the book and didn’t see anything about it beyond the movie trailers and TV commercials. I enjoyed “Divergent” so I went into the sequel expecting more of the same. That’s pretty much what I got. More angst with Tris, more battles with the Erudite, and more villainy from Jeanine. While I didn’t think it was quite as good as “Divergent,” I thought it was a serviceable enough sequel.
One of the most notable things about these films is the impressive cast. Shailene Woodley is still good as Tris, but she’s a lot less of an enjoyable character because she spends most of the film upset or crying about the events of the first film. Still, she handles the action and drama well and is a solid lead actress. It’s a little weird seeing her in scenes with Theo James as Four, Ansel Elgort as Caleb, and Miles Teller as Peter. All of these young actors have played a love interest of hers in previous films, but here they respectively play her lover, brother, and nemesis. It makes a strange dynamic. Theo James is a solid action star while being handsome enough for young teen fans to swoon over. Miles Teller is also given a lot more to do than in the previous film. He actually plays a bit of the much needed comic relief in this otherwise very dark story. Ansel Elgort gets the short end of the stick. While he was a charismatic and dynamic character in “The Fault in Our Stars,” here he’s an unlikable character who is shoved in the background. It’s what’s called on for the role of Caleb, but you can’t help but think he’s capable of more.
The rest of the cast is really strong as well, but their talents are also a bit short-changed. Naomi Watts comes on board as Evelyn. With darker colored hair, she’s difficult to recognize at first. This is an interesting role for her as you’re not quite sure if she’s a heroine or villainess. Hopefully we’ll see more of her in the sequel. Octavia Spencer also appears briefly as Johanna, leader of the Amity faction. She’s so mellow, we don’t get to see much of her charm that we’ve seen in other roles. Daniel Dae Kim from “Lost” joins the cast as Jack Kang, leader of the Candor faction. As for returning cast, Kate Winslet is the woman you love to hate as Jeanine. Jai Courtney continues to be a pretty great bad guy as Eric. Then you have Maggie Q as Tori, Ray Stevenson as Marcus, and Ashley Judd as Natalie. They all give a lot in what little screen time they have, but they are all capable of a lot more.
The action this time around is pretty solid. Early in the film there’s an intense gun battle followed by a fight on a train. Tris also finds herself in some dramatic computer simulations that would be worthy of “The Matrix” or “Inception.” The production design is also impressive. Post-apocalyptic Chicago is pretty cool with its dried up river and half-destroyed skyscrapers. It gives this world a unique look compared to other young adult stories.
What Didn’t Work:
While “Insurgent” is still enjoyable, it lacks one of the things that made “Divergent” unique – the world building. In the first film, you were drawn in as this new dystopian environment unfolded before you. Now the story plays around in this established world with very few new corners revealed. Also missing is the big theme of a young teenager trying to find her role and acceptance within a group in the world. In fact, that’s what really set it apart from the “Hunger Games” series. Without that, these two dystopian series have less to differentiate themselves from one another.
If you also sit down and start thinking about the plot, a lot of it doesn’t make much sense. For example, why do Tris and her friends keep hiding in plain sight when there’s a major manhunt on for them? Why does Caleb make the stupid decision that he does? What kind of flawed logic does Evelyn have for doing what she did to Four? And when the final secret of the mystery box is revealed, you’re left kind of thinking, “Well that was a bad idea.” I can’t get into details without revealing spoilers, but when you discover the purpose of the factions and the wall, it’s no wonder this world had an apocalypse. Their leaders were morons.
The ending was also a bit convenient. Tris and Four find themselves in one of the most heavily-guarded and secure buildings in their world, and help rather magically shows up out of nowhere to save them. It was a bit unconvincing. I think if Robert Schwentke had spent less money on numerous sweeping shots of post-apocalyptic buildings and instead spent it on showing the cavalry storming the building, it would have worked better. This rather abrupt, convenient resolution after such a slow build for the rest of the film is followed by a cliff hanger setting up the next film. It’s a bit unsatisfactory because you probably could have compressed this story and whatever is coming next into one movie.
I also happened to see this film in IMAX 3D. While I love special formats for movies on the big screen, I can’t say there’s much in this that lends itself to either the 3D experience or the IMAX format. If you need to save money for popcorn, you won’t be missing much if you skip the more expensive ticket.
The Bottom Line:
I think if you’re a fan of the books or if you liked “Divergent,” you’ll find “Insurgent” worth checking out in theaters. But if you’re tiring of post-apocalyptic young adult book adaptations, there’s nothing new here that’s going to win you over.