“Nearly everything about this movie is ridiculously dull, except for the plot and pacing, which are just plain ridiculous.”
by Ken B.
Here is a movie that is so unbelievably bland that it almost seems offended by the idea that anyone would try to formulate an opinion on it in either direction. It is called The Divergent Series: Insurgent, and that prefix shows you its place as a medial point in the Divergent franchise. The first film came out last year. I reviewed it, and suffice it to say I didn’t like it. I don’t like this one either. Like its predecessor, it takes place in an odd universe, a city-state with exceedingly complex social structuring and authoritarianism yet fails astonishingly at attempting to explain why we should believe for a second that anything so bamboozling and ridiculous could ever exist. This is the setup of the whole storyline, and you’re left scratching your head at how any of it happened to begin with. Yet this movie isn’t terrible – it’s far too clumsy and disjointed to be terrible.
Insurgent follows the crumbling of a police state in the remnants of what was once Chicago, following some sort of cataclysmic war. The populace is walled inside the city, and are divided into one of five sections, based on their skill set. Anyone who qualifies for more than one is considered a “divergent”, and is shunned away socially and oppressed by the government, and under the leadership of Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet), hunted down for arrest and likely execution. Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) is one, and she has been part of a growing uprising to overthrow the state and its destruction of her group. She traverses to find a highly enigmatic object, a sealed box that can only be opened by a full-fledged Divergent, which she is. What information is stored inside? No one knows. I said the box was sealed, weren’t you listening to me three seconds ago?
Nearly everything about this movie is ridiculously dull, except for the plot and pacing, which are just plain ridiculous. At 119 minutes, Insurgent is twenty-one minutes shorter than the lumbering and sloppy Divergent, and while that means things are pulled together at a reasonable clip, the storyline still feels slapdash and scattershot. Having not read the source material (the second novel by Veronica Roth), I can’t comment on where the inception of this issue is, but if it started in the books, the screenplay doesn’t make a very valiant effort to alleviate things. My main problem with the story of these movies so far is that its setting is never made plausible – if everyone is divided into these five specific, segregated factions, who performs work that doesn’t fit into any of the above, like custodial labor or construction? Or if things are automated in this futuristic world, who’s programming and maintaining the robots? The film doesn’t suspend disbelief far enough for us to dismiss these questions, nor does it address them in any way.
Despite this, one of the few things that director Robert Schwentke is able to make universally positive is the visual look and feel of his movie. A large chunk of the second and third acts take place within the context of elaborate and rigorous simulations that Jeanine Matthews places potential Divergents under. They are apocalyptic, demanding extreme environments to test the skill sets of the subject, and often involve large swaths of slow-motion destruction. The effects in the scene are superb. Insurgent’s production design – which ranges from dark, dirty slums, to farmland, to metallic, electronic glassy skyscrapers – is fully engrossing. There’s usually something to fall back on during a stretch of bad writing, although all but forcing yourself to ignore the inane dialogue and do nothing but stare at the pretty scenery is a definitively unsatisfying way to watch a movie.
Shailene Woodley delivers another solid performance as Tris Prior, as her character muses her intent, and the traits of fear and bravery, although there is just about no chemistry between her and co-star Theo James, which is bad considering that the romantic development of their characters is the crux of a fair degree of subplotting. There’s some interesting material to be had when it comes to the evolution of Tris’ brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and former cause-supporter Peter (Miles Teller) as their allegiances change to The Other Side over the course of the film, but the script never dives into them with any real substance.
There’s no nicer way to say it – Insurgent is a mess. The acting and visuals are major benefits, but the writing is atrociously mixed-up, with pacing so off-putting that the film feels like it’s going to end three or four times before it does. It’s impossible to be invested when the movie is too disorganized to give you a strong reason to. The middle part of a story is where the momentum needs to build to a finale, allowing the final installment (or in the case of this and similar movie franchises, installments) to hit the ground running, but while I’m giving the movie props for not ending on an incomplete cliffhanger, there’s also no real draw provided to give anyone any real reason to want to come back for more. This and Divergent form what could be construed as a finished story, where a conflict arises, a solution is strategized, and it is dealt with. There is no compelling reason to watch parts three and four. And you know what? I don’t think I will.