It’s hard to muster enough energy to review a movie the likes of Insurgent. What’s the point? Really? It’s a product, nothing more. I can only wonder what the conversation is as they head into production, knowing they have nothing to work with. Does director Robert Schwentke wonder if anyone notices and is it really worth the extra money spent to hire three screenwriters — Brian Duffield, Akiva Goldsman and Mark Bomback — to attempt to adapt Veronica Roth‘s young adult novel into a coherent screenplay? More questions than answers exist at the end of the film’s two-hour running time, the most pressing of which is to wonder what they can possibly come up with to make one more. That said, had they combined the first two books in Roth’s “Divergent” series into one movie rather than two, perhaps we’d have something to discuss.
To its credit, Insurgent doesn’t conclude with an open ending, leaving the audience to feel as if they haven’t seen a complete movie. No, instead they hardly offer up a beginning, hoping we remember the events of the dismal first film telling of a walled society where people are separated into factions based on their dominant personality traits, a society where it is frowned upon if you hold more than just one of these traits and are considered… “divergent”. Such is the nature of Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley), who saw her mother (Ashley Judd) and father killed in the first film and is now on the run with other members of her Dauntless faction, as well as her gangly brother, Caleb (Ansel Elgort).
The crux of the film swirls around a mysterious box, found in the now-decimated home of Tris’ family. The villainous Jeanine (Kate Winslet) of the Erudite faction tells us this box holds the secret to the society’s future, left for them by their founder, and only to be opened by a “divergent”.
Hmmmm, I wonder who it could be that will open the box. Could it be Tris? No, because she is under the threat of gunfire and death the entire film and if they kill her there’s no way to open it. Not to mention, if the society’s founders hate divergents so much, why would they create a box that could only be opened by a divergent? Consarnit! This movie is melting my brain! It’s so deep and confounding, I can only wish to fully realize the secrets it holds!
While Insurgent does manage to assemble an impressive cast — Kate Winslet, Naomi Watts, Miles Teller and Octavia Spencer — it’s Woodley that ultimately comes out looking as if she has made a dramatic error in choosing to star in this franchise. In Divergent she was able to save face with her performance, most notably a touching scene as she cried over her mother’s dead body, but here her performance is a square peg in a round hole. As the tears flow, feelings of consternation swell, wondering how things could possibly be this bad. You can feel how hard they are trying to connect with the audience, using Woodley’s talent in an attempt to connect emotionally, hoping to hide the fact none of this matters, to the point it’s numbing. It almost makes Woodley look silly for even trying and for that they should be ashamed.
Scenes bump into one another as the story lacks any real sense of narrative cohesion, but more a collection of scenes meant to move the characters around the landscape in an effort to make sure all their ducks are in a row for the big finale. Most of which is presented in such sterile, glossy setting none of it seems real. There’s no texture to this world or avenue inviting us to relate.
Insurgent is an ultimate example of a major film faux pas, which is the endless amount of telling us what is going on rather than relying on just showing us. This is a movie, after all, you don’t need to endlessly tell us what the next move is, or how you’re second guessing a decision, or regretting this or doubting that.
As Tris, her love interest, Four (Theo James), and brother are walking to the next stop on their required journey, Caleb stops to say, “I’m not going with you.” It’s a scene that makes sense from a character perspective, but the way it’s wedged into the story stops the film in its tracks and it doesn’t improve from there as only seconds later Tris and Four have to discuss Caleb’s leaving, combined with the requisite “It’s not your fault” moment. It’s hard to believe the screenplay ever got beyond the outline stage when you see such clumsy storytelling and to think three people couldn’t come together to write something any more compelling is astonishing.
Double-crossing and egotistical stupidity rule the day as the story slowly devolves into gunfire and special effects, another ruse to distract you from the monotony that got us to this point.
As we near the end credits the thought of one more of these films is almost haunting. Granted, it’s not egregiously bad, but almost purposefully tiresome. Absolutely no effort is shown in any one scene other than from the actors, none of which deserve to have their names associated with a movie of this nature. Not even Jai Courtney, an actor I have not yet seen deliver a convincing performance and yet I can’t fault the fact his character comes off as a mindless drone. If anything his character feels like a representation of the assembly line that delivers this kind of movie to our multiplexes, passing it off as “entertainment”. No doubt previously established fans will flock to this film, but it is somewhat satisfying knowing their young minds will have forgotten it within a few years and none of us will have to ever acknowledge it even existed.