‘I’ ON CULTURE
The main problem with Insurgent is not just that it is a sequel, but that it is a muddled, unfocused, boring one. Some sequels are pretty much as good as the first (the first and second Hunger Games come to mind) and a few might even surpass (Godfather II over Godfather, maybe; The Empire Strikes Back over Star Wars surely, although both are brilliant) but this movie goes nowhere. It does do it fast in the sense that things keep happening and there’s plenty of computer-generated imaging to keep you from dozing. Unfortunately, the plot basically disappears.
The whole story (a trilogy in book form, although they’re going to squeeze four movies out of it) takes place in a post-apocalyptic Chicago. For some reason we are not allowed to know or appreciate, people are divided into five groups based on their major attributes: Erudite (the smart ones), Amity (the charitable ones), Dauntless (the brave ones) and so forth. The two films stressed the notion that people would be focused on that one attribute so that those in Dauntless were insanely brave (with a high casualty rate) and those in Erudite had no morals at all. The main characters, Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James), are Divergent; they don’t fit easily in any category, and thus are considered enemies by the powers that be.
In this film, not much really happens in terms of plot, and it runs a minute short of two hours. The characters don’t really develop and change, and the actual events barely seem real. The key element, finally revealed after (counting the first film) about three hours of maneuvers is that there is a special box that can be opened only by a Divergent. Someone strong in all would presumably be able to get in.
The evil meanie, former dictator and Erudite head Jeanine (Kate Winslet), who has the box and believes that opening it will prove her murderous tactics when she ran the whole place were correct, captures Tris, the only Divergent with a “100 percent Divergence” rating. Once that happens, there is a long, drawn-out testing element, a form of video game/virtual reality in which she “tests” and abuses Tris. The whole sequence could have been cut down sharply, and it would have improved the film greatly.
Of course, there are other plots. There were a whole group of Divergents who escaped Chicago at the end of the first movie, and they are trying to forge alliances with other groups as a way of overthrowing Jeanine’s followers. To help confuse the issue, Four’s thought-to-be-dead mother, Evelyn (Naomi Watts) gets in the mix. And several of the key characters betray her and her forces. To top it off, because it is a sequel with two more coming, there is no real ending.
The largest problem is that the screenplay does not let Tris develop as a person. There is just about no chemistry anymore between her and Four. Even worse, her part seems to retreat somewhat. Instead of being in the center of the film, she becomes a support player without a real star in sight.
The supporting players who probably took the hapless parts because they could use the cash (there were very few really good scenes in the entire film) were fine, but hardly stood out. Miles Teller as the obnoxious traitor Peter stole almost every scene he was in. He seemed to actually care. Woodley is a good actress and comes across nicely, but the part seemed to slip-slide away. Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss in Hunger Games became more important and seemed gradually more larger than life every time she was on screen. Woodley’s Tris is sort of tossed aside.
The computer images were great, and some of the set scenes were visually superb. But if someone has not read the books recently, they will quickly lose track of what is going on. Mid-point sequels are tricky. The story cannot end, but there has to be some progress. It has to build on the world created in the first film and bring the audience somewhere new. Unfortunately, Insurgent goes nowhere. The film cost a lot of money, over a hundred million dollars. But it seems far more was spent on special effects than on producing a script that created the basic structure of the film.
Sometimes with movies, hearing that there’ll be sequel makes your day. In this case, the prospect of sitting through two more of these ruined mine. Perhaps they can actually create a real script in the next one.