The Sterling Standard in Movie Reviews 

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Surging Boredom

 119 Minutes
Rated: PG-13
Directed by: Robert Schwentke
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Miles Teller

Shailene Woodley has been described in some places as the next Jennifer Lawrence, a somewhat odd comparison since the current Jennifer Lawrence is only one year older than Woodley. However, like Lawrence, she has become the face of a science fiction film franchise based on a popular YA trilogy. Unfortunately for Woodley (and not in any way her fault), her Divergent series (of which the current Insurgent is the second chapter) is a distant second, both artistically and at the box office, to Lawrence’s Hunger Games.


The Divergent series is based on a premise that’s every bit as old as the “human hunter” central theme of Hunger Games. It’s set in a dystopian near future in what’s left of Chicago, a city that’s surrounded by high walls to protect it from the wasteland beyond. Society has been divided into five factions based on a person’s dominant genetic attributes, and those who do not become members of a faction become the homeless Factionless, eking out an existence among the ruins. A few people, known as “Divergents” show aptitude for more than one faction, an attribute that would seemingly be in high demand but in actuality has led to them being condemned as threats to society. One such Divergent is Tris (Woodley), who began the series in training to join the Dauntless (warrior) faction.


As Insurgent begins, Tris, her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) her former Dauntless instructor Four (Theo James), and another Dauntless trainee Peter (Miles Teller) are on the run from the de facto ruler of the city, Jeanine (Kate Winslet). Jeanine is convinced that the Divergents represent a threat to society’s order and wants them hunted down. However, after Jeanine takes possession of a mysterious box that Tris’s now dead mother (Ashley Judd) was guarding, the ruthless leader discovers that the box can only be opened by the right Divergent. Further, the box contains words of wisdom left behind by those who created the walled city years earlier. One doesn’t have to be an Erudite (Jeanine’s intelligentsia faction) to figure out just who that “right” Divergent is.


Like most autocrats, Jeanine has made a few enemies during her rise to the top, and, as Insurgent progresses, they gradually form an alliance whose intent is to put an end to Jeanine’s rule. Their leader is one of the Factionless, Evelyn (Naomi Watts), who happens to be Four’s mother. Evelyn reveals that Four’s real name is Tobias, and Four in turn reveals his distrust for Evelyn. Along the way, the alliance has lost two of its members, Caleb and Peter, who, for different reasons, have returned to Jeanine’s fold.


Although, as with most YA science fiction novels, the concepts in the Divergent series are simplified somewhat for the intended audience, author Veronica Roth created a complex, well thought out future world, one which the movie Divergent captured quite well. However, almost all of Roth’s high concepts were revealed in Divergent, so there’s little left to explore intellectually in Insurgent. Viewers do get to learn about Candor and Amity, two factions that got short shrift in the first film, but for the most part, Insurgent is a somewhat heavy-handed parable on notions of racial superiority. Jeanine herself is somewhat of a cross between Josef Mengele and Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS.


Since director Robert Schwentke (who did not helm Divergent) and his team of screenwriters exhausted their supply of concepts from the original source material, they avail themselves of the old Hollywood standby—ripping off other movies. Poor Tris suffers from horribly bad dreams (which, not surprisingly, contain lots of 3D-worthy moments), a condition that is exacerbated when she eventually falls into Jeanine’s clutches. In order to be able to open the box, Tris must show she possesses an aptitude for each of the five factions by passing a dream simulation test.


Some might question the logic of a box left behind by the creators that can only be opened by first successfully maneuvering one’s way through various spectacular CGI laden effects sequences. More jaded audiences would merely note that the entire dream simulation concept seems to be a direct ripoff of The Matrix, while the box itself recalls Hellraiser (down to the labyrinth of wires that Tris is hooked up to during the simulations). Finally, anyone who has seen Raiders of the Lost Ark can guess how much Jeanine is going to like what she discovers when she does finally get the box open.


Of course, Insurgent is far from the first movie to borrow themes or flat out rip off other successful films. However, the lack of originality is significant here because director Schwentke uses these elements, especially the various dream sequences, as the lynch pins for most of the major set pieces in Insurgent. And, frankly, although these scenes are extravagant and filmed to highlight the 3D photography, they simply don’t have much impact. The computer imagery is so obvious that viewers never believe that Tris is involved in the goings on, despite some seeming death defying heroics. Ironically, the more effects laden Insurgent becomes in its last half hour, the less exciting and interesting it becomes as well.


Before Schwentke starts channeling The Matrix in the last scenes, Insurgent does get off to a rousing start, with an extended chase sequence culminating in a fight on a high speed train. The sequence, which largely features traditional stunt work rather than CGI, is one of the better one of its type I’ve seen in a while. However, the rest of the action in the film falls short of the standard set early on.


After leaving the theater following Insurgent, my feeling was that I had spent a lot of time watching nothing. Certainly, there was plenty of action and some fine acting, including a coolly icy performance by Winslet and a heartfelt anguished one by Woodley. However, the only actor who really made an impression was Miles Teller. By virtue of his character’s duplicity, he manages to be the best developed and most entertaining character in a movie that could have used more humor.


Although I won’t spoil it, the ending of Insurgent does indicate that the plot of the next movie in this series, Allegient, will go in a different direction. That’s fortunate because this film seems to have been stuck in neutral for most of its two hour running time. I wouldn’t mind seeing either a well-made action film or an intriguing sci fi movie the next time around. I just don’t want a repeat of this rather tepid episode in the Divergent saga.

Read other reviews of Insurgent:


Insurgent (2015) on IMDb