INSURGENT Review

It is odd to come to the realization that you are no longer within the target audience for a certain genre of film. Sure, I may not have enjoyed Insurgent, the second film in the Divergent series, but the makers of the film don't care if I like it or not. This is a film catered to the junior high audiences that eat up these young adult novels in spades and move on to the next one in order to satisfy their angst-ridden school days. This isn't a bad thing, especially with the recent wave of strong leading female characters no doubt making young women feel more able than ever and alleviating the need to conform. That may sound rather banal in terms of themes, but they are ideas every generation needs to learn and it just so happens the current generation is picking up on such ideas by way of brave heroine's in dystopian futures. While I rather enjoyed author Veronica Roth's initial trip into a futuristic Chicago where society has been divided into five factions according to individual personalities, I found it difficult to make it through the second book in her trilogy. Insurgent always felt more like a trudge than Divergent when it should have been an opportunity to go a step further than it's exposition-filled predecessor. Insurgent, the book and the film, want so bad to open up this world that Roth has created, but instead this middle chapter is hindered by not having the structure of a clear beginning or end. I had to force myself to begin reading the source material again after a previous false start. I made it through in my second attempt, but it was more of a chore than anything and I've yet to pick up Allegiant, the third and final book in the series that will of course be split into two movies, and honestly have no desire to do so. While Insurgent is certainly a competent film and has flashes of real creativity and strong performances, it stalls early in it's storytelling prowess and never recovers. By the end of the film I felt like almost nothing had happened and the ball had been pushed only a few yards down the field from where we started two hours before. It's hard to know who to blame-Roth's overly layered source material or the multiple screenwriters tasked with adapting the it that have streamlined it to the point it all feels pointless, but someone should be held accountable.

Four (Theo James) and Tris (Shailene Woodley) are on the run in Insurgent.
We pick up with Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James), Peter (Miles Teller) and Tris' brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) soon after the attack on Abnegation that served as the climax in the previous film. New franchise director Robert Schwentke (Flightplan, RED) takes little time to explain the rules of this world or what has occurred in the past to bring these characters to this point other than a telegraphed message from faction leader Jeanine (Kate Winslet) who has been positioned as the big bad in this series. As our heroes are on the run from the Jeanine they first come to hide out with the Amity faction led by Johanna (Octavia Spencer). Amity is a place of peace and forgiveness that is situated at the farthest edge of the fence. The production design alone for this opening segment is enough to make one hopeful for what is to come, but soon enough Tris and her gang are on the run again as Jeanine has sent her cronies, led by Jai Courtney's Eric, to capture every divergent that exists. Jeanine is after the divergent population for the reason of opening a box that was hid beneath Tris' parents (Ashley Judd and Tony Goldwyn) floor. Jeanine believes this box to hold a message from the founders that will ensure the future of people who deserve it rather than the divergent population who she believes will destroy their society. Oddly enough, only a certain level of divergent can open the box and I'm sure you can only guess who that might be. That's right, Tris is your winner! While the relationship between Tris and Four continues to evolve as well, Tris sees it as her responsibility to turn herself in so that Jeanine's reign of terror may come to an end. This all occurring while Four resorts to teaming up with his presumed to be dead mother, Evelyn (Naomi Watts), the leader of the factionless. If this all sounds a bit much that's because it is and the film itself gets so bogged down in the semantics of everything that the clear streamlining of the source material feels like a wasted effort.

The main issue with Insurgent is the fact it's story is all over the place. There are so many macguffin's that it is easy for one to lose count of just what is going on and what the justifications are for certain actions. Whether it be the countless serums these characters are injected with or the numerous simulations that take place, we never know whether we can trust what we're watching or not. Insurgent is so contrived and purposefully complicated that it never carries any real weight. Instead, it's lack of common sense is buried beneath all the plot devices to the point that we inevitably don't care about the end goal, Jeanine's secret box or whatever other ridiculous motivator the story tries to put in place to convince us this is heavy stuff. What's worse is that all the charisma these actors have brought to their former roles is squandered here because of the overly-elaborate premise (Teller, Elgort and Judd seem hired to do little more than stand around). Besides the plottingt, it is the characters themselves and their consistently irritating decisions that serve as the larger downfall for this story. As Tris, Woodley is clearly giving it her all. She is giving it her all to the point that it in fact seems silly she should be so invested in such absurd circumstances. This is a shame, really, as it was Woodley's performance in Divergent that really sold this world as something worth investing our time in. With the constant changing of her mind when it comes to being brave or retreating to try and stop Jeanine as part of a larger army though, it's hard to decide if Tris is reliable, genuine or even likable this time around. For the most part, we tend to root for Tris simply because Winslet makes her antagonist so nasty it would be impossible for anyone to want her to win. That Winslet, along with Spencer, Watts and Ray Stevenson are in this cast is enough to make one think there has to be more here that we're not seeing, but alas as the final frame of the film cuts to black Insurgent feels more insipid than it does inspiring.

Jeanine (Kate Winslet) has taken to testing divergents with the help of Caleb Prior (Ansel Elgort).
What saves the film from being a complete waste of time is that it is efficiently paced and manned with some interesting visual approaches. Schwentke, who gets a bad rap for R.I.P.D., but has otherwise produced some fun B-movies takes the world of Divergent to a whole other level with his interpretations of the vivid hallucinations otherwise referred to as "Sims." While these visual representations of Tris attempting to display her aptitude for each individual faction lean a little too heavily on special effects work, it is the story within the visual choices that remain appealing. These "Sims" are intended to reflect the emotional state of the subject under the chemically induced serum and that Tris is in such a volatile state throughout Insurgent we see constant references to buildings, objects and atmospheres in which she exists exploding and coming back together in some other form or fashion. The unpredictability of where Tris will come down on the always unfolding events is hard to call and sometimes even harder to follow, but the visually assaulting style with which Schwentke grabs the audience tries to make up for it and should not be dismissed. It is even more reassuring that the film never looks cheap, even if the same might not be said about the ideas. It is also nice that Schwentke gets the opportunity to use lush green backdrops and interestingly lit sets rather than having to dwell so long in the caverns of the Dauntless compound as director Neil Burger was forced to in Divergent. Still, none of this is able to overcome the fact that by the half-way mark of the film everything begins to feel so repetitive and with nothing unexpected happening we only grow more frustrated with these characters and their poor decisions. I legitimately want to like and root for these characters, but it has become increasingly difficult to care about whether they fail or succeed in their plight and the rather certain conclusion of Insurgent seems to only tell of more bad decisions on our heroes part for there to even be enough story to sustain a third chapter (let alone two more films).