The Divergent Series: Insurgent Review
THE UNBALANCED DIVERGE OF INSURGENT
Following the success to the theatrical adaptation of The Hunger Games, Summit Entertainment released Divergent, the first installment of a planned series and based off of the first book in the popular books by Veronica Roth. Similar in tone with The Hunger Games (both on page and on-screen), Divergent followed the story of Beatrice (or Tris) Prior and her unique abilities of which the society she lives sees as a threat. In the end, whether you liked it or not, Divergent gained a modest return investment at the box-office, which was enough for the studio heads at Summit to green light the next installment in Divergent series. Now, a year later, Tris’s sequel adventure arrives in theaters with The Divergent Series: Insurgent or simply just Insurgent. Does this newest dystopian adventure prove better than the first or does it get lost in its own story?
Set three days after the events of Divergent, Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James), Peter (Milles Teller), and Caleb (Ansel Elgort) have sought a sanctuary refuge with the Amity faction, pondering their next move against Erudite’s leader Jeanine (Kate Winslet). In pursuit of the foursome is Dauntless enforcer Eric (Jai Courtney), who’s been assigned to apprehend them, while also tasked to find a true Divergent to aid Jeanine in opening a mysterious box that holds the paramount answers from the founders of the five factions. Attempting to rally the Candor faction, and their leader Jack (Daniel Dae Kim), to join their cause, Tris and company find themselves in Factionless where they meet up with Evelyn (Naomi Watts), the Factionless’s leader and Four’s mother, who is poise to merge forces and remove Jeanine from her lofty position. Realizing that she’s the only hope, Tris succumbs to Jeanine’s will, subjecting the youth to dangerous virtual trials that test her Divergent ability to their unimaginable limits, acting a key to opening the elusive box.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
I have to say that I personally liked Divergent. I thought that the movie was pretty good (flaws and all) and proved to be a strong contender or rather second tier to The Hunger Games movies. So, of course, when I saw the trailers for Insurgent, I was completely hyped to see the movie. Unfortunately, after viewing the movie, I found that Insurgent had made some improvements from Divergent, but losses several key components in its sequential sequel, making Insurgent feel somewhat loosely haphazard than concretely cohesive.
With Divergent’s director Neil Burger declining the position of directing the second movie, Robert Schwentke, director of Flightplan and R.I.P.D, helms Insurgent with a new outlook. Schwentke ups the action for the franchise, dusting off the staleness introduction of the first film, and jumps right into the foray of violence, guns, and YA action oriented scenes. To his credit, Schwentke’s goal of more action works well, keeping the movie running, for the most part, at a brisk pace. The downside, however, is finding the time for everything else essential to the story.
The overall film narrative of Insurgent is a peculiar one, splicing the movie with a concoction that’s part manhunt movie, part Inception-esque dream / virtual worlds, and part run-of-the-mill YA drama. While the previous entry balanced drama and action (a little bit more so on the drama), Insurgent can’t discern itself from being slightly generic and failing to strike a proper balance in its narrative. Its structure, which is more centered on its action, doesn’t allow the story to breath, causing several questionable and illogical subplots to go nowhere without any meanings of explanation. Even the movie’s theme of self-acceptance and forgiveness is brushed aside slightly with more frenetic action taking center stage. The feature also presents the problem of being too predictable, losing the surprise impact of the several twists and turns that Insurgent throws at its viewers. Even the film’s ending, which setup of events for the next installment, is a little bit convenient (an easy out) that doesn’t have a satisfying build up to that point or a weighty cliffhanger ending. In fact, it actually feels like its ending seems so conclusive enough for the movie franchise to end with Insurgent, forgoing the future installments. In a nutshell, Insurgent has a good story to tell, it’s just a shame that it present itself with an unbalanced narrative structure and calculable futilities.
Perhaps Insurgent’s greatest strength comes with its hefty production budget. With a twenty five million dollars increase from Divergent, Insurgent’s creative team seems to have utilize their money with a production upgrades in enhancing this second adventure. From a practical standpoint, set designs are larger in scale and more detailed than the ones found in Divergent, most notable sets including the grimy hodgepodge and mutli-leveled home of the Factionless and the horticulture sereneness dwelling that’s found in the Amity faction. With a higher production cost, the film’s visual effects have improved greatly. Jarring visuals shots from the first film are gone and are replaced with effect shots that are equally sleek, smooth, and creative. This can be seeing in the simulation test that Tris endures, offering a feast of eye-candy visual effects for viewers behold and are personally the true highlight of the film. As a side note, Joseph Trapanese’s score for the movie is pretty good.
Leading the charge in Insurgent is Tris Prior played by Shailene Woodley. Woodley, who has proven herself to be a talented individual in the first movie and more recently in The Fault in Our Stars, reprises the character of Tris again and plays it quite well. Yes, she might whine and be upset from the events of Divergent for parts of this movie, but she handles her character with confidence and is solid lead actress in the series. Theo James’s Four (or Tobias) is still ever present as Tris’s companion / lover, but, while his back story gets a little more fleshed out, his screen time is weakened with soap opera dialogue and his silent and stoic demeanor has diminished slightly. Nevertheless, both Woodley and James still prove to better young adult actors that most as well as their characters in most YA film franchises. Kate Winslet’s Jeanine is still the central villain in Insurgent, but, while the experience actress lends her talent to the film, her character’s persona is of a stereotypical villain; making her a flat antagonist.
While the movie moves fast, it doesn’t slowly down, demoting time spent to character developments to plot points and action scenes. This can be seeing in with several character arcs (both major and minor ones) that are pushed aside and are less dynamic than before, reducing several of them to flat personas that objectively are there to help propel the story forward. Major characters like Miles Teller’s Peter and Ansel Elgort’s Caleb start the feature with more emphasis on them, but ultimately become bland arcs that are funneled to being both predictable and unresolved motives. Other minor characters like Jai Courtney’s Eric, Maggie Q’s Tori, Mekhi Phifer’s Max, Ray Stevenson’s Marcus, and Zoe Kravitz’s Christina are reduced to have only a handful of brief lines of exposition scenes and / or background cameo fillers. Even newcomers to series like Daniel Dae Kim, Octavia Spencer, and Naomi Watts, all whom have great acting abilities, don’t have much screen time to make a lasting impression for viewers.
The Divergent Series: Insurgent is curious a movie that both works and doesn’t work. Its visual / technical achievements are commendable (proving superior to its predecessor), its action is more intense, and Shailene Woodley is a terrific lead. Unfortunately, the feature can’t escape unresolved minor subplots and failing to capture a captivating narrative structure (both in its cast and storytelling). In truth, I’m perplexed by this movie, feeling like I liked it, but also disappointed with it. Of course, fans of the books or of the first movie will find Insurgent to be worth checking out. For everyone else, there’s not a whole lot here that will surprise or completely win a casual moviegoer over. With the finale (Allegiant) set to be filmed as a two part endeavor (see my review for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 for my thoughts on that), The Divergent Series is loosen its theatrical and memorable footing with viewers as its overall franchise conclusion is heading towards a docile sendoff applause rather than a triumphant farewell cheer.