On the Silver Screen – Insurgent
Robert Schwentke’s Insurgent is the second installment in The Divergent Series and continues the story that started in last year’s Divergent.
The first film wasn’t good at all and if it weren’t for a friend wanting to see this I would have skipped this entirely due to how woefully uninspiring the overall premise is. In this installment Shailene Woodley’s Triss and Theo James’ Four are on the run from the government who have made it a mission to hunt down and kill any Divergents in their ranks.
Triss has apparently grown up since the last film after suffering the loss of her parents. She is seen to be grieving for them and the wound is supposedly a fresh one to her. I say it like this because the film tells us that is the case without really showing us. Her grief basically amounts to endless dream sequences and giving herself an angsty haircut. It could have been a film that explores Triss’ deep sense of loss and how that informs her desire to bring down the establishment but instead it seems to be a very small piece of an endlessly convoluted story.
It really is a shame that Woodley comes across so poorly here as she is a very terrific actress who is simply given nothing to work with here. Whether it comes from the source material being terrible or just a bad script I can’t really say but Triss is so thinly written that there’s nothing to empathise with at all. She seems to be a vehicle for the story to happen around but offers very little in the way of emotional connection. We are told that she is special on many occasions and she is set apart from society for exhibiting traits belonging to many factions rather than being singularly definable like the majority of people. The laughable thing about it is that we never actually see any evidence of this complex character that we are constantly told exists. She seems to be as one note and bland as everyone else. You have to question a premise that actually explains why the writer is incapable of giving depth to any of the characters.
There are a couple of moments in the film where Woodley gets to show off what she can do with some solid emotional beats as well as a proving proficient in the action sequences. In the first film she definitely seemed off when trying to do action but she comes across as far more hardened and formidable here. I genuinely think that Shailene Woodley is a star in the making and she is above material like this.
Theo James suffers a similar fate with a character so profoundly uninteresting it’s hard to figure out if it’s bad acting or bad writing. I haven’t really seen him in anything else so it’s difficult to say if the guy has any talent at all. He has about as much chemistry with Shailene Woodley as Hayden Christensen had with Natalie Portman in the Star Wars prequels so their relationship comes across as really forced. There wasn’t one second where I believed that these characters would be a couple.
Miles Teller and Ansel Elgort don’t get much screen time and that’s maybe for the best. It’s odd since the two of them have become really big stars since the first film came out but their characters really annoyed me so it’s just as well that I didn’t have to look at them an awful lot.
Kate Winslet is absolutely phoning it in here. Like everyone else the material gives her nothing to work with but she especially seems to be sleepwalking through the whole thing. I do wonder why she’s here at all because surely she doesn’t need the work. I can only imagine the pay is an obscene amount of money. Same applies to Naomi Watts who only really serves as a plot device as well as a promise of payoff in the next film.
That sums the plot up in a nutshell. This film doesn’t exist to tell a contained story that will continue in the sequels. Everything here is buildup leading to more buildup without any payoff at all. Nothing in the narrative is ever resolved or developed properly because it’s pure setup for the next installment. That would be fine if the plot was attention grabbing but it’s just not.
It’s baffling that the action climax boils down to Triss having to complete a series of simulations so that she can open some kind of mysterious box. It’s actually hilarious to see everyone gush over this thing and the dangerous secrets it might hold. As you might expect the answer to the question of the contents provides a really moronic twist that manages to make absolutely no sense.
It’s a big problem with this franchise in general. None of it really makes any sense and having the world appear in a second film doesn’t help with that at all. I still don’t understand the notion of grouping people into these factions and what benefit it serves to society as a whole. I also find it hilarious that there are a group of people called “Factionless” who have built a society but aren’t legitimised as belonging to anything. The “Factionless” are surely a faction of their own. Identifying them as being without faction never begins to make sense and the fact that the characters say this with a straight face makes the whole thing seem all the more ridiculous.
It’s hard to say if this film is better than the first one or not as I don’t remember the first one all that well. I’m inclined to say that it’s probably just as bad given how little an impression it left on me.
It’s a shame it has to be so bad as it has a lot of great talent involved. Shailene Woodley and Kate Winslet and Naomi Watts are incredible actresses and are definitely far above material like this. Miles Teller and Ansel Elgort have both become massive stars since the last installment and could definitely be doing better things with their time. Theo James never comes across as watchable but it’s hard to tell if his character is terrible or if he’s a bad actor. Maybe it’s a combination of both because he never connects with the material or seems believable at all.
The story suffers from simply existing to set up future installments while failing to actually prove worth watching on its own. Much of the film builds up to a moronic twist that makes absolutely no sense in the context of this world.
Not making sense is definitely something that can be attributed to this franchise as a whole. The underlying premise is so thin that it’s impossible to take seriously and the characters have so little depth that they are a chore to watch. Nothing about this inspires anyone to care about anything that happens. Having the action climax be a series of simulations each less interesting than the last really doesn’t help either.
As with most Young Adult franchises I’m sure this is functionally immune to criticism. The target audience will probably love this but more effort could be made to make this whole thing somewhat watchable instead of the lazy mess that currently exists. It gets a point for having a good cast that occasionally give us something resembling character.