The Divergent Series: Insurgent would be just as unremarkable as its aggressively average predecessor, were it not for the fact that it seems to have completely abandoned any sense of logic.
Insurgent is a sequel that’s even less shy about aping the dystopian young adult sci-fi literature mine that was thrown open by The Hunger Games, though this time, the sequel at least has the decency to increase its budget and scale. Insurgent looks remarkably better than Divergent did last year, making it less obvious that these are assembly line YA adaptations being thrown onto the big screen as quickly as possible to take advantage of a diminishing fad. That’s at least a plus.
With that said though, it’s just impossible to get around the sequel’s bad storytelling, laughable personalities, and general sense of disregard for any level of common sense. The script is all of a sudden being driven forward by impossibly convenient technology and inconceivably accurate task forces, with only Shailene Woodley’s talented presence, and some decent visual effects, left to give the whole mess any sense of credibility or appeal.
If you enjoy the source novels, Insurgent is an acceptable adaptation of the saga’s middle chapter, but avid sci-fi fans, or general moviegoers, won’t find anything else to get excited about.
Insurgent catches up with Tris, Four, Caleb and Peter, who have decided to hide out in the Amity faction, after the big battle at the end of Divergent. Tris is angry and angsty, because Amity just isn’t cool enough, I guess, and Peter is still a dick. In fact, barely ten minutes into the movie, Tris literally tries to kill him with a fork.
Ok, yes, Peter is a dick, and he probably had that scare coming, but one of the main weaknesses in this sequel is the fact that Tris has become so spectacularly unlikeable. She had some charm as an accidental protagonist in the first movie, but in the second, she’s become grumpy, self-centered, thoughtless, annoying, and just generally unpleasant. Yes, she lost her family and was driven out of her home faction, so some of that grumpiness is understandable, but Tris should not be this violent or reckless! It just makes her impossible to root for. Hell, in a hilariously pointless action sequence with some Factionless on a train that follows the whole bit in Amity, Tris straight up murders people who have nothing to do with the conflict at hand! Our heroine, ladies and gentlemen…
Thankfully, Shailene Woodley keeps things watchable at the very least. She’s given a very shaky script, and you can tell that she’s straining to empathize with Tris’s actions at certain points in the story, since Tris is just way too much of a meathead in this follow-up. If the movie was trying to make an edgier heroine, it failed, because the edge came at the expense of the audience’s methods for sympathizing with Tris. She comes off as a brutish idiot, not a true saviour, and it’s not until the later points in the movie that her better side bothers to come out at all, standing in stark contrast to her behaviour earlier in the movie. In fact, there’s one point where Tris is called a, “Bleeding heart” by Peter, and I damn near burst out laughing in the middle of my screening. A bleeding heart wouldn’t be bitching and moaning about the peaceful state of Amity, nor would she try and kill one of her only friends with a fork, nor would she throw innocent people from a speeding train, no doubt killing them on impact!
Fortunately, Theo James gets a better deal as Four, particularly with the introduction of Four’s mother, Evelyn, played by Naomi Watts, who becomes a key character in the two-part Allegiant finale especially. Seeing Four struggle with his mother seemingly abandoning him at a young age is interesting, and it better justifies Four’s vulnerability than Divergent did. Finally, his distrust of women in particular makes sense, and it gives his relationship with Tris newfound meaning. Where Tris becomes insufferable, Four remains worth rooting for, so the difference kind of cancels out with our leads.
Getting another raw deal however is Miles Teller, who must play a morally ambiguous character with no definable personality in the sequel, simply doing as the script demands. Peter doesn’t have a real personality to call his own. One minute he’s a dick. Next minute he’s a hero. Next he’s a traitor. Then a hero. Then a dick. Then who knows what. It’s a sloppy hodgepodge of a character that just makes for a deus ex machina for either the good guys or the bad guys when the situation calls for it, and that’s just bad writing when it comes down to it.
Likewise, Jai Courtney’s turncoat Dauntless trainer, Eric is similarly ill-defined and ludicrous in Insurgent. He constantly seems to be on the trail of Tris and Four, despite never having any evidence of their actual location, able to spawn with a platoon of bad guys at random, whenever the story needs some drama. Again, that’s just bad writing, plain and simple. Even more inconceivable is Eric’s magic mind control/sleepytime/auto-suicide/surgery-proof miracle bullets that make for some of the worst offenders in a movie jam-packed with bullshit technology that just does whatever the script wants it to. Yes, I’m aware that Erudite conquered Abnegation after Divergent, but you can’t expect audiences to believe that technology has raced to this impossible level in a mere few days. How do those wonder-bullets even pull off most of that functionality?! Conveniently, the movie never says.
If it’s especially easy to feel bad for anyone though, it’s Kate Winslet. Winslet’s exasperation as Erudite villain, Jeanine is painfully obvious in Insurgent, with Winslet blatantly just wanting out of the franchise, and clearly only present because of contractual demands. Winslet phones her way in throughout the entire movie, as does Ashley Judd in several dream sequence cameos as Tris’s late mother, Natalie, with just about all of Jeanine’s presence from Divergent now appearing to be gone. This isn’t surprising, as Jeanine has been reduced to a cardboard villain with barely anything to do at all, beyond try to open the all-important magic box that will allow her to take over the factions, or something like that. The movie doesn’t do a great job of explaining it.
Divergent may have been very average, but at least it had more of a focus on developing its characters. Insurgent however just seems to be all style and no substance, having all of the best character moments thrown amidst a sea of distracting CGI, and not even bothering to justify the rest of the character turns in this wafer-thin script.
Insurgent’s plot is so sloppy and incoherent that it almost reaches Twilight standards. It’s a shame, because the initial setup of the world in Divergent was reasonably solid. Unfortunately though, Insurgent starts pushing everything even further toward a Hunger Games singularity, with the politics and foundation of the world being pretty well non-existent already, and just giving away to the inevitable revolt against the big, bad new government that overthrew that old, presumably better government.
Insurgent is the most obvious of middle chapters. The entire movie simply serves as a bridge between the foundation of Divergent, and the final battle of Allegiant. The story jumps around with no rhyme or reason, simply following Tris and Four escaping the takeover of Abnegation, and then just bumbling around until Divergents start being hunted, except Eric is killing Divergents now, for… Reasons. Seriously, how did that trigger-happy idiot become the supposedly intelligent Jeanine’s point man?!
Ok, in truth, Divergents are being hunted for a reason. Jeanine needs them to open her magic box, which will give her… Something necessary to… Who knows. Again, the script does such a piss-poor job explaining how this box works, beyond that it needs a Divergent to open it, for… Something stupid that undoes most of the good setup behind Divergent. Moreover, didn’t Jeanine previously decide that Divergents were bad and need to be wiped out? Now she’s turning around and saying that she needs Divergents? This makes this supposed mastermind come off as another illogical nincompoop who doesn’t actually have a plan, and is just doing what the script tells her to do, with no consistency.
Anyway, three guesses who the one person who can open Jeanine’s magic box is. Oh yes, it is exactly who you think. So, on top of being idiotic, the story in Insurgent is largely predictable. Only in the final minutes is there a semi-decent twist, and even then, it’s just an annoying cliffhanger for the two-part Allegiant movies.
At the very least, the later points in Insurgent feature some cool dream-like sequences, which were another highlight in Divergent as well. It’s too bad that the entire franchise couldn’t unfold in these dream worlds. They’re by far the coolest elements, and at least that way, you could excuse the criminal lack of logic or reason in this crazy world!
Robert Schwentke has taken the director’s chair from Neil Burger, the helmer of Divergent. Yes, the guy who brought us the awful film adaptation of R.I.P.D. In fairness, he also delivered the reasonably entertaining RED as well, but Schwentke just seems to have been hired so that he could listlessly put together an assembly line teen blockbuster at the whims of Lionsgate.
The upside to Schwentke’s direction is that it does make Insurgent a bit more visually pleasing. Burger’s dream sequences were more trippy and interesting in Divergent, but Schwentke’s more action-focused dream sequences are still pleasing to watch. Likewise, Schwentke seems to give the world more of a sense of style in contrast to Burger. Sure, that’s no doubt the increased budget too, but Schwentke at least knows how to frame a cool-looking sci-fi shot.
Still, Schwentke can’t seem to do anything with the movie’s lacklustre script, with the actors mostly sleepwalking through their performances. Shailene Woodley is a welcome exception, picking up the slack when her co-stars just can’t find the charisma to carry on, and Schwentke pretty much appears to allow Woodley to do as she pleases for the most part. I suppose that’s fine. Woodley is the most entertaining presence in the movie after all, even if Tris’s character writing in the sequel is awful.
It all amounts to the same unremarkable directing job that Neil Burger previously delivered for the most part, only with more studio intervention and less of a sense of inspiration this time.
Insurgent’s soundtrack is unremarkable and wholly uninteresting. The soundtrack is a sloshy, sleepy score that seems to be going through the motions as much as the actors are. There is a single by Imagine Dragons, “Warriors”, but it’s no more remarkable than the rest of the music. The teen-y, pop-y soundtrack in Divergent may not have been a perfect fit for a dystopian YA literature adaptation, but at least it was interesting! Insurgent’s score on the other hand is just unmemorable and phoned in by contrast.
As for the rest of the audio work, it’s alright, but nothing special. The movie largely lacks punch compared to many other blockbusters, with a few of the dream sequences having some impactful audio, but everything else just feeling toothless. You can wring a bit more out of the action in an IMAX screening, but even then, the sound isn’t anything to write home about.
For all of its failures to live up to its predecessor, Insurgent is at least better-looking and better-produced in contrast to the first movie. Again, the dream sequences stand as a highlight, being thrilling and surprising, and being the best testament to the sequel’s increased budget. It’s a far cry from the often cheap, slapped-together look of Divergent last year, with Insurgent actually looking the part of a blockbuster YA sci-fi adaptation this time.
The set design in Insurgent is pretty solid as well, and makes the world feel a lot more immersive than it was in Divergent. It’s actually interesting to explore around the various factions now, with Insurgent giving us our first in-depth looks at Amity and Candor, and the environments feel like they deserve a better story than the one they’re driving at here.
My screening of Insurgent was in IMAX 3D, and while the 3D was decent enough, the IMAX element was pretty poor. Insurgent makes no real effort to take advantage of the IMAX technology, only adding a bit of extra ‘oomph’ to the action scenes, and not taking advantage of the increased screen ratio at all. Don’t bother with the IMAX 3D cut, because it’s a complete rip-off. At least the 3D presentation does add some immersion and excitement to the dream sequences especially however, particularly since Divergent was only released in 2D. If you’re interested in a 3D ticket, you’ll get enough of a visual boost to merit the extra price, even if those preferring to watch in 2D aren’t missing a whole lot.
It’s nice that the studio didn’t make Insurgent feel like it was once again thrown together on the cheap, like its predecessor clearly was, and the addition of 3D doesn’t feel wholly superfluous in this case. Again though, it’s just a shame that the decent visuals weren’t wrapped around a better story, or better characters.
Insurgent sports better production values than Divergent, but that’s the only real upgrade here. Every narrative element has really fallen apart in the second movie, taking an average final product in Divergent, and plummeting it to the realm of outright bad-ness. Insurgent is salvaged just enough for fans of the source novel, thanks to Shailene Woodley’s efforts and the improved visuals, but everyone else is better off skipping it, particularly sci-fi fans that are actually expecting something smart and worthwhile.
It seems especially evident now that this is a careless franchise that was made up as it went along. This feels appropriate, since Lionsgate optioned the entire trilogy of Divergent novels, complete with release dates and a predictable split in two of the third and final book, without bothering to make sure that the original movie turned out well. Forced to carry on with their haphazard plan, after Divergent didn’t ultimately make that much money, and Insurgent not doing much better, Lionsgate has had to eat a sequel that is forced to work from a source story that’s already kind of a mess. Sure, this movie isn’t Fifty Shades of Grey-level doomed and careless, but it skirts close to that school of reckless thought on the part of its studio.
So, Insurgent is a disappointing, idiotic and narratively flaccid sequel, but what does it matter? We already have the two-part Allegiant finale in the pipeline for 2016 and 2017, whether we want it or not. If you’re a fan of the books, then Insurgent is a thankless middle chapter that will give you your big screen fix that you asked for. With two movies left to go however, the dopey final product of Insurgent isn’t exactly a vote of confidence for this franchise’s big climax.
- Shailene Woodley's best efforts
- Some solid dream sequences
- Decent final twist
- Story is painfully illogical and moronic
- Characters are thin, and have inconsistent motivations
- Abandons the strong world foundation of Divergent