THE DIVERGENT SERIES: INSURGENT
** (out of 5)
March 20, 2015
Kate Winslet as JEANINE
Shailene Woodley as TRIS
Theo James as FOUR
Jai Courtney as ERIC
Mekhi Phifer as MAX
Ansel Elgort as CALEB
Miles Teller as PETER
Studio: Summit Entertainment
Directed by: Robert Schwentke
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
In some ways, the cultural phenomenon of teen book series being turned into blockbusters that started with Harry Potter has been a curse for Hollywood. Sure, these movies have reaped oodles of profits for the studios, and when they stumble across a series like “Twilight” or “The Hunger Games,” it’s great for the bottom line.
However, when those series run their course, they leave a profit void in the studios and forces them to desperately search for the next big thing. As the Harry Potter series was coming to a close, Hollywood struggled to find its replacement, and in doing so delivered a minefield of mediocre-to-terrible would-be franchises like “City of Ember,” “Eragon,” “The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising,” “The Golden Compass” and even the middling “Percy Jackson” series.
With Harry Potter and Twilight over for years and “The Hunger Games” finally winding down, Summit is trying to milk the “Divergent” series for all they can. However, while the first film was a mild success last year, it’s hardly the box office juggernaut they wanted. Still, it’s all they have right now, so they’re really trying to up the ante with the sequel “Insurgent.”
And yes, the movie looks a lot better than the first film did. “Insurgent” has been given an IMAX release and some slick 3D effect. (Unfortunately, the cool shattering effect used in the film is overused and included in almost every action moment of the movie.) Additionally, because this film is more about continuing the story than it is about ham-fisting an awkward world-building origin story, things run a bit more smoothly.
Unfortunately, “Insurgent” still suffers from the same dumbed-down science fiction storytelling and teen angst reliance that we saw in the first film.
I have started to refer to recent PG-13 horror films like last fall’s “Ouija” as “slumber party horror movies” because they are unlikely to invoke any sort of terror from anyone other than a 13-year-old girl at a slumber party. Similarly, both “Divergent” and “Insurgent” are science fiction stories for 13-year-old girls (which is, actually, the appropriate target market for the original books).
This is not a dig against 13-year-old girls, of course. It’s simple fact. They’ve never been known for their deep critical thinking, just as 13-year-old boys have never been accused of being deep thinkers when they flock to the latest “Transformers” movie. Instead, these movies are made for teens and tween, but sadly not for the a mainstream audience.
This new movie follows Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) as they try to form an army to defeat Jeanine (Kate Winslet), who is trying to exterminate all divergents in the city. Jeanine (who oddly doesn’t possess an inner monologue but instead narrates her every mood and thought) also stumbles across a mystery box left by the city’s founders, which can only be opened by a divergent.
Yes, this movie literally has a mystery box in it. I’m not talking about a “mystery box” plot element that filmmakers like J.J. Abrams likes to add to his movies and television shows. I’m talking about a literal box that holds a mystery.
Sadly, like the ongoing story itself, this mystery box has a convoluted backstory that never really makes any sense… even when we discover the mystery inside. Like the entire franchise element of factions – which is supposedly infallible and rigid but people are encouraged to choose whatever faction they want to join – things never really gel or make pragmatic sense.
In one later scene in the film, Tris says to Four: “This isn’t going to make much sense, but you have to trust me.” In a strange way, I feel this is a Freudian admission of the film’s own silliness and poor writing.
So yeah, “The Divergent Series: Insurgent” is a real mess of a film, but it’s true to the spirit of the first film. If you liked that one, you’ll get more of the same with the sequel.