Director: Robert Schwentke
Cast: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Octavia Spencer, Ansel Elgort and Zoë Kravitz
Running Time: 119 minutes
Release Date: March 19th
The road to teen-lit adaptation success is paved with the bones of those who tried and failed. For every hit, there’s multiple misses, as the likes of The Giver, Beautiful Creatures, The Host, I Am Number Four, The Mortal Instruments, Vampire Academy and others can attest to. Divergent wasn’t exactly the runaway hit – $288 million worldwide on a $85 million budget – to mark it alongside the likes of Harry Potter, Twilight or The Hunger Games, but closer to the also ran’s of Percy Jackson and The Maze Runner. This sequel was the opportunity to deal with an actual story now that they’ve got all of that set-up out of the way, they’ve got fresh creative talent in, both behind – Robert Schwentke (RED, Flightplan) replacing Neil Burger (Limitless) – and in front – Naomi Watts and Octavia Spencer join the already impressive cast – of the camera, but it’s all for nothing. Insurgent turns out to be more of the same, but even less worthy than before.
Hitting the ground running and without even as much as a “Previously on Divergent” introduction, the movie buckles under its own weight and snaps both legs within the first few minutes. Even for those who aren’t new to the series, Insurgent can sometimes be impenetrable with all its talk of Abnegation, Erudite, Dauntless, Candor, Amity, Divergent and Factionless, but all you need to know is this; Jeanine (Kate Winslett, playing a super-villain everyone calls by her first name) wants society to stick to its segregated factions, but Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James) and a few others don’t fit within this system, so they want to tear it down.
More often than not, you’ll probably forget who is a member of which faction, and if we should trust them or not, but don’t worry; Insurgent thinks you’re all idiots, so gives us just the right musical and lighting clues to remind us whose good and whose bad, every single time they’re on screen. The first hour of the movie is knuckle-gnawingly dull, as the good guys try to round up a mini-army to take down Jeanine’s self-appointed hierarchy, but thankfully things pick up significantly when Jeanine herself seems to get impatient for the Divergents to do anything, so sends a load of soldiers into their compound to infect the kids hiding there with a microchip that makes them commit suicide. Yes, you read that correctly.
From there on, all of Insurgent takes place within a virtual reality world, which adds some visual spice to proceedings – Tris trying to save her already dead mother (Ashley Judd) from a floating house that’s on fire and crashing into a city of skyscrapers for example, and yes, you read that correctly – but robs it of any real threat. Woodley tries her hand at PTSD in much the same way J-Law did for superior sequel Catching Fire, but her character just doesn’t feel like she’s earned it. Her conversations with her brainwashed brother (Ansel Elgort) about their murdered parents sound more like an argument over unfinished chores, while her plans to kill Jeanine – not capture, not negotiate with, straight up KILL – feel harsh for someone is supposed to be searching for peace.
Winslett doesn’t have much to do other than power dress and try not to blink (the ultimate shorthand for being eviiiiiiiil), while Watts and Spencer add nothing but probable character pay-offs further down the line, in the already announced split-threequel Allegiant Part One and Part Two. Although who will have an interest left to come back for two more helpings is anyone’s guess, as (without spoiling it) the cliff-hanger here has the characters leaving behind the only interesting aspect the series has had to date. Harry Potter eventually took us out of Hogwarts, The Hunger Games eventually took us out of the arenas, but it was okay because those series had earned the right to do that. So far, all The Divergent Series has earned is our apathy.