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August 28, 2015

The Divergent Series: Insurgent

by Franz Patrick


Divergent Series: Insurgent, The (2015)
★ / ★★★★

Jeanine (Kate Winslet) has acquired an artifact that she believes to contain an important message from people of the past that would allow current society, divided into four factions (Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, Erudite—with Divergent and Factionless as outsiders), to flourish. Jeanine, an Erudite, insists on eradicating the so-called Divergents, a select few who do not belong under only one faction, but only a Divergent can open the box. She assigns her henchmen to capture all Divergents in order to force the latter to go through a series of challenges—via simulations—that must be surmounted in order for the message to be revealed. Meanwhile, Tris (Shailene Woodley), a powerful Divergent, and her friends remain in hiding.

Perhaps it is not a surprise that “Insurgent,” based on the novel by Veronica Roth and directed by Robert Schwentke, is a frustrating sequel to a disappointing and superficial first outing—but one cannot help but feel hopeful. This film offers a relatively solid first half, especially when it comes to the action, but the climax is so driven by empty visual effects that one cannot help but get the impression that the filmmakers, especially the writers who adapted to novel to film, did not even try to create something that is both cinematic and emotionally or intellectually involving.

The hunt for the Divergents is led by the brutish Eric (Jai Courtney). Courtney commits to the role so much that at times I felt the protagonists were running away from a tank or a bull. Look closely at the scene involving a chase through a forest and an incoming train. The sequence—even though it consists of standard action elements—bursts with so much electricity that I felt excited about what else the picture might offer.

But what a nosedive. In between the gun-shooting and chases are puppy dog eyes traded between lovers and the million ways they attempt to communicate how much they care for one another. Remove all of the action and I argue that the romance here is on par with the silliness and superficiality of the central romantic interest in “The Twilight Saga”—only not as suffocating, sticky, and drawn out. The fact that the romantic plot is not relatable universally really drags the picture down because there are actually a few good ideas here. For instance, the material touches upon identity, the value of innate abilities, the importance of choices, the role of self-forgiveness, the dangers of arrogance.

There are also hints of good performances here. Woodley is such an effective dramatic performer that she actually elevates an otherwise stale script simply by making fresh choices through her body language. Even though I could not relate to the words Tris is saying most of the time, I related to her body language. It is the strangest experience but it really underlines the importance of casting choice. Because the film is not completely involving, very slow in parts, at one point I imagined a lesser performer relying solely on words or intonations to emote. Miles Teller, playing a character whose allegiance is hazy at best, is a breath of fresh air here, too.

There is absolutely no excuse for such a lackadaisical climax. The simulations that Tris undergoes in order to open the artifact are so overdone that the movie ceases to look like a movie but a video game released in the early 2000s. The shards of broken glass, the collapsing buildings, even the debris in the air—they all look so fake that I started to get angry at the thought of how much time and money the filmmakers probably spent on such unnecessary nonsense when all that effort could have been put in sharpening the characters and making the story more engaging. They chose the easier avenue and it shows.

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