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The Divergent Series: Insurgent

March 20, 2015
The Divergent Series: Insurgent

It doesn’t bode well for the writing of your movie series when you can’t even get the titles not to sound clunky and awkward. The dystopian young-adult trilogy spooling out from last year’s Divergent doesn’t have a separate collective title, and the usual strategy of using the first entry’s title was evidently worse, so the filmmakers have settled on The Divergent Series: Insurgent for the second installment. It goes downhill from there.

First, a reminder of the hook for Veronica Roth’s particular dystopia: after some unspecified crisis, the remnants of humanity live in what used to be Chicago, divided among five “factions” that are such transparent stand-ins for high-school cliques I won’t even bother with the thin pretense the movie uses. But, at the end of the last movie, the evil Nerds have enlisted the evil Jocks to execute a coup, demolishing one branch of the Student Government, and now they blame it on a ragtag band of rebels who don’t fit into your narrow categories daddy!

These are the “divergents”, and in particular we’re following Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) and her newfound lover Tobias “Four” Eaton (Theo James). They’re hiding out with the Hippies, along with Tris’ Nerd brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and Jock bully Peter (Miles Teller), who have gotten swept up in the chaos. Nerd-queen Jeanine (Kate Winslet) has sent Jock attack dog Eric (Jai Courtney) to chase them down. And this drives Tris and Four to fall in with the Gothpunks who reject the whole faction system, man, conveniently led by Four’s not-actually-dead mother (Naomi Watts).

Meanwhile, Jeanine has recovered a box from the ruins of Tris’ family’s house, which she says holds a message from the system’s founders. The one catch: it takes a divergent to open the box, and not just any divergent, but the Most Special Girl In The World. I’ll say this for the filmmakers, including co-producer Roth herself: it takes a special kind of clunky, awkward writing to insert a literal plot device — a mechanism that literally contains a plot — into your story.

Every single element of the story is superficial, silly, and stupid. Do you, the author, need a reason why the Gothpunk army can’t just attack right away? umm… psychotropic implants that can kill them instantly by remote control. But once you don’t need that excuse anymore? well… they figured something out. Yes, a major shift in the story’s dynamic hinges on “something”.

And the way director Robert Schwentke turns this awful story into a movie is actively bad. I’ve seen good actors play half-baked, ridiculous crap before, and when done right it can actually feel kind of fun. “Yes,” their performances seem to say, “this is silly, but I am going to sell the hell out of it anyway.” Nobody does that here, and we get wooden performances at best, and unbelievable high school drama histrionics at worst. And they’re all better than this, from a truly great actress like Kate Winslet down to seemingly-permanent screen pairing Elgort and Woodley. I’ve seen better performances from each and every one of them, and if this movie were all you had to go on, you’d think they were all actually this bad.

Insurgent is not just a bad story, it’s such a bad production that it makes actually not-bad actors look bad to be in it. It’s worse than the Neil Burger-helmed Divergent and, even more depressingly, Schwentke is locked in at least for the first part — of course you knew it was going to be split — of the third book’s adaptation.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: pass.

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