Throughout the screening of The Divergent Series: Insurgent I kept thinking to myself that either I hadn’t actually read the book after all (although I was 99.9% positive I had) or the movie and the book had little to do with each other. Since the screening I’ve come to understand that it was the latter option and that the movie strayed in significant ways from Veronica Roth’s bestselling second book of the series. Insurgent (and, no, I’m not going to keep calling it The Divergent Series: Insurgent because that simply is too cumbersome and unnecessary) is not only the second film of the series but it also ranks second to the first film in quality storytelling.
While Divergent was tasked with setting up the dystopian world in which citizens are divided into five factions based on personalities and aptitude, Insurgent isn’t saddled with that burden. However, much of this second film feels like filler material and it doesn’t take full advantage of its freedom from the bonds of explaining this brave new world. The characters are no further developed by the end of Insurgent than they were at the end of Divergent, and in fact some exhibit less personality in this sequel than they did in the first film.
The second film picks up very shortly after Divergent ended, with Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James), Peter (Miles Teller), and Caleb (Ansel Elgort) hiding out with the Amity faction led by Johanna (Octavia Spencer). Jeanine (Kate Winslet) has spread the lie throughout the factions that Tris, Four, and the other Divergents were actually behind the attack on Abnegation. It seems she’s uncovered a mysterious box (that’s not in the books and is a major plot point in the film) and in order to open it she needs one pure Divergent to successfully pass each of the factions’ simulations. That the process of ferreting out the one Divergent capable of passing the tests leads to the deaths of all the Divergents who’ve been rounded up by Jeanine’s enforcers, Max (Mekhi Phifer) and Eric (Jai Courtney), doesn’t matter. The mystery box, which had been hidden away by Tris’ parents, was created by the founders of their society and may hold the key to their survival, and Jeanine will stop at nothing to unlock its secrets. And, as you have probably guessed, Tris is the one pure Divergent who possesses the ability to withstand all of the simulations.
Tris is the heart and soul of the uprising in the books and the films, and Shailene Woodley is a terrific actress who makes you feel for this young woman who’s been thrust into a leadership position. Woodley’s saddled with only being able to display a small range of emotions in this second film, but she does well portraying the reluctant hero. Theo James has even less of a range of emotions to explore, but he does fine within the constraints placed on him by the script. Because Kate Winslet and Miles Teller have expanded roles, Maggie Q and Zoe Kravitz are given less screen time than you’d expect given the battle between the Divergents and Winslet’s Erudite faction. Fortunately, Winslet and Teller’s increased presence on screen helps the film move along, with Teller providing comic relief during the otherwise bleak proceedings. Also impressive is Naomi Watts as Four’s mom, Evelyn, who’s back from the dead and hiding out as the leader of the factionless. Evelyn’s a bad-ass with one objective: to kill Jeanine…something Tris can get behind and support.
Insurgent doesn’t pick up any real momentum until the final half hour, with the story sluggishly moving forward as it makes its way toward the moment when Tris and Jeanine square off and Tris is forced into attempting to open the box. From that point on, Insurgent transitions from plodding storytelling into a gripping sci-fi action film.
Does Roth’s final book of the series, Allegiant, deserve to be split into two films? If Insurgent is any indication of what’s in store with Allegiant Part 1, the answer is a firm no. In fact, the audience may have been better served if Insurgent had been trimmed to a swift 45 minutes and added to Allegiant Part 1. Dragging the story out into two more films seems pointless given the slow pace of this second movie.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for intense violence and action throughout, some sensuality, thematic elements and brief language
Running time: 119 minutes
Directed by: Robert Schwentke
-By Rebecca Murray
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