Since Divergent inexplicably did well at the box office, the time has come for a sequel. Insurgent is here and it’s so much more important than it’s predecessor. At least, I think it is. Certainly every character speaks in such hushed and somber tones that it gives off the impression of being a very dramatic bit of storytelling. Likewise, the budget was bigger so far more things blow up in CGI-heavy action scenes. So if the scale is larger and the tone is somber, this must be a dark epic second act to an amazing trilogy, right? Well, not so much. For one thing, studio greed means that the final book in Veronica Roth’s dystopic YA series will be split into two movies as is the custom of our times. For another, there’s no denying that all of the weary-eyed posturing going on in Insurgent is exactly that, posturing. The filmmakers clearly all knew exactly what movie they wanted to make. Unfortunately what they wanted to make was the last revolution-heavy Hunger Games sequel, which we all just saw and were mildly disappointed by. This carbon copy called Insurgent on the other hand is more than mild in its disappointment.
The story picks up immediately after the events of Divergent. Once again we’re thrown into a dystopia in which everyone is divided into factions based on adjectives, personality traits, and uniforms. Our plucky heroine Shailene Woodley is different though. She doesn’t fit into any single faction. She’s special. She’s divergent (like the title). That’s caused all sorts of violence and trouble, which the society’s leader (Kate Winslet) has blamed on Woodley and her hunky dumbbell boyfriend played by Theo James. They start the film hiding out with the peaceful hippy clan led by Octavia Spencer and then end up in the revolution-ready factionless clan led by Naomi Watts (whose heavy black eye-shadow suggests evil). Woodley and James then brood for a while struggling to decide if they want to embark on a violent revolution, while Winslet starts rounding up divergents to put though a secret series of virtual tasks to open up a secret box that holds a secret message left behind by the secret leaders of this society. Unfortunately, none of the divergents that Winslet finds are divergent enough to solve the puzzle. Guess who is? I’ll give you a hint: the heroine. Cue a bunch of expensive CGI action scenes with stuff blowing up to prove to the audience that the movie is expensive.
So Insurgent serves up pretty much what you’d expect. This is yet another one of those dystopic YA adventures that have been clogging up the multiplex since Hunger Games was a massive hit. In a way, it’s almost an honest reflection of YA fiction for this to happen in film. After all, that’s a literary genre defined by endless knockoffs of popular trends filling gaps between new trend launching hits and to be fair these dystopic knockoffs are far better than the Twilight knock offs that we all suffered through recently. At least the Divergent series tries to impart some sort of social allegory to its teenybopper audience, even if it’s message is quite confused and redundant. Plus, since Divergent made a bunch of money, the filmmakers had a bigger budget to launch some sci-fi action spectacle this time. Unfortunately, the director assigned to staging that spectacle is Robert Schwentke (RED, RIPD), a man who has no real sense of how to pace or shoot an action scene. Instead of carefully mapping out a thrilling sequence of spectacle, Schwentke just throws a bunch of CGI nonsense at the screen and hopes that it counts. Admittedly, he has made the children’s movie with the most instances of people being shot in the face in the history of the genre. So that’s some sort of unique achievement. Sadly, it’s just not enough to overcome the fact that this is a deeply stupid movie trying to be smart and an unbearably dull blockbuster claiming to be exciting. The result is very much a waste of time and talent.
The lone bright spots in the movie are provided by a handful of actors. Miles Teller returns in a reduced role since his career has exploded and injects some much needed humor and charm in a film completely lacking those qualities elsewhere. Likewise, Winslet, Spencer, and Watts are all far more talented that the movie deserves and inject life into characters undeserving of their effort. Yet, more than anyone else the single person who almost makes Insurgent bearable is Shailene Woodley. The young actress is a major talent and commits so fully to her nothing role that she actually pulls genuine pain and emotion out of a cardboard archetype. So, there’s a certain pleasure to be had just in watching all these fine actors strut their stuff. The only trouble is that everyone and everything surrounding them in Insurgent is so generic, dull, and half-thought out that it doesn’t really matter. A piece of crap with good actors is still a piece of crap, but at least all those fine folks got a big pay day from this swill that they can use to support themselves through more worthy roles in smaller movies. It’s not enough to make Insurgent watchable, but it’s at least enough to somewhat justify its existence in monetary terms.