The “Divergent” series’ middle installment cracks open the series, bringing the entirety of the Dystopian world Veronica Roth created to viewers. We get a glimpse of the factions Amity and Candor before the very faction system is on the brink of dissolving.
“Insurgent” starts more less where “Divergent” left off. Our hero, Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) is hiding out with her new beaux Four (Theo James), brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and frenemy Peter (Miles Teller) in the Amity compound following her dismantling of the totalitarian Jeanine’s (Kate Winslet) attack on Abnegation. But Tris has come out of that mess a little traumatized, and Jeanine’s hunt for divergents, specifically one special enough to open a nifty box she found, is bound to bring it all to the surface.
Like the “Divergent” script, this screenplay touches on the key moments from the book but doesn’t do much to mitigate the confusion between what’s going on with all the factions and who is allied with whom — you know, really building out world and the supporting cast. And so much of the action in this movie takes place in Tris’ nightmares or in simulations that are obviously simulations, zapping it of a lot of suspense.
Tough to blame the writers too much, however. Summit hired two of the most seasoned script doctors out there in Akiva Goldsman (“The Da Vinci Code,” “I Am Legend”) and Mark Bomback (“The Wolverine,” “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”) and while everything about the story ends up making sense and being compelling enough to watch, the heart of Roth’s books — how she hooks you with Tris’ thoughts and emotions — plays second fiddle.
Woodley is a terrific actress and she sells all of Tris’ self-hating inner demons exceptionally well, but she feels more like a cog in the story machine than the driving force behind the story itself. Director Robert Schwentke, who replaces “Divergent” director Neil Burger, gives her moments and lets her be raw, but it hardly compares to the introspection we’ve seen in “The Hunger Games” series and how that franchise has focused around its heroine.
Schwentke proves a competent guide for this series, but not so much a creative one. The aesthetic of “Insurgent” does not capture the imagination, nor do the simulations and nightmares, which offer a lot of creative license to a filmmaker. Burger, I feel, handled those better.
Yet there’s enough talent to go around (including the additions of Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer and Daniel Dae Kim to the cast) to keep the film afloat. The scenes that need to get your attention get your attention; the actors put you in their characters’ shoes; the story moves at a good pace. Honestly, there’s nothing especially awful about any aspect of the movie (aside from some of Winslet’s unfortunate dialogue), it just feels par-for-the-course. The books are kind of that way too, so maybe enjoying “Insurgent” is just about appeasement. It’s about satisfying fans of the book and people who enjoy the genre but don’t need intellectual stimulation or riveting character drama. I’ll stand by the idea that this series could be done better, but maybe not in a way that meets teen blockbuster criteria. I’m at peace that the latter is the direction producers chose to go.
Directed by Robert Schwentke
Written by Brian Duffield, Akiva Goldsman, Mark Bomback
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet