Insurgent (2015)

One Choice Can Destroy You

Marketed as a close relation to Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games franchise, Insurgent — the second installment of Veronica Roth’s Divergent series — boasts a significantly different narrative structure to that of its ‘big sister.’ To Roth’s credit, Insurgent cleverly ‘diverts’ from Collin’s formula, particularly as it sees its protagonists overthrow the corrupt government of the shattered, dystopian Chicago — now encircled by a high-powered electric fence — in this second film, whilst paving the ground work for a whole new set of revelations and surprises, which will no doubt be explored in the imminent Allegiant movies. With director Robert Schwentke, RED (2010), taking the reins from Neil Burger, Divergent (2014), for this second female-centric chapter, the filmmakers have thankfully assumed that most moviegoers have already become well accustomed with the world of Divergent, and thus, spend little time offering flashbacks — bar that of the tragic finale — or explaining the picture’s intricate post-apocalyptic universe.

'On a scale of 1 to 10, you'd have to be a Four.'
‘On a scale of 1 to 10, you’d have to be a Four.’

As Insurgent opens, we are dropped head-first into a seemingly bombed-out Chicago, where our rebellious heroes are on the run from the murderous power-hungry tyrant, Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet) and the rest of the Erudite faction. While in hiding, our heroine, Beatrice ‘Tris’ Prior (Shailene Woodley), eventually discovers that her parent’s didn’t simply die to protect her life, but also, the secret of a mysterious cube, an object which can only be opened by a Divergent strong enough to pass five ‘sims,’ or tests, calibrated to the skills of each faction. It’s later made clear that Tris is the only person who can open this ‘magic box’ — a creation invented by the screenwriters to provide a handful of slow-motion, cinematic sequences — and she is forced to choose between her own life, hopes and dreams, and those of the people caught in the deadly crossfire as Jeanine relentlessly attempts to crush the rebellion and capture the explicitly unique Divergent who may hold the key to the future of their society.

Visually, Insurgent sticks close to its predecessor, in spite of this, we thankfully see beyond those bland interiors and underground training facilities in which Divergent spent much of its run time, and investigate factions other than Abnegation and Dauntless. Audiences whiff a bit of fresh air as our leads take refuge at Amity’s peaceful outdoor sanctum, and then move to the bleached-out city of Candor, where the people value honesty and truth. As with all ‘second’ outings, viewers are also introduced to an array of new players, with Naomi Watts, Mulholland Dr. (2001), being the clear standout as the formidable Evelyn Johnson, Four’s mother and the leader of the Factionless — those who do not fit into any of the factions — albeit, she doesn’t have much to do until the next installment. Octavia Spencer, The Help (2011), gets a couple of lines as Johanna Reyes leader of the hippy-farming sect Amity, while Daniel Dae Kim, from television’s Lost (2004), is solid as Jack King, a representative of the law-abiding Candor.

Shailene sure knows how to 'plug' her films!
Shailene sure knows how to ‘plug’ her films!

In terms of narrative, Insurgent generally seems to be running on autopilot; there are however, a few jolts along the way; a startling sequence involving some shock suicides springs to mind, as does an emotional scene in Candor, where Tris forgives herself for the three deaths she carries on her conscience. While admittedly brutal, Roth illustrates an admirable attitude towards violence in her writing — Tris usually opts to spare her adversaries — never glorifying or praising the acts. With evasion scenes making up the majority for the first hour, Insurgent truly blazes in its final act, where Tris is tested in Jeanine’s Cloud City-like headquarters and the picture’s visual effects artists showcase a number of virtual-reality training environments and dream-within-dream illusions, all of which defy our normal, everyday physical constraints. While these moments no doubt make for thrilling effects reels, it’s rather disappointing to learn that most of the action in Insurgent takes place in these ‘imaginary’ simulations, scenes that have been shown countless times throughout the film’s advertising campaign too no less. With three new screenwriters at its helm, Brian Duffield, Akiva Goldsman, I Am Legend (2007), and Mark Bomback, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), surely a little more could have been done to amplify or flesh out the picture’s threat-meter; alas, nothing in Insurgent truly extends beyond surface level entertainment.

As one might expect, the impressive cast do an admirable job in reprising their respective Divergent roles. Shailene Woodley, Divergent (2014), has less to do this time around bar cut her hair and make an important choice late in the game, with that said, she nails her weightier scenes and gets to fire some weaponry here and there. Theo James, Underworld: Awakening (2012), once again makes for delicious eye-candy as the hunky Tobias Eaton, more prominently known as Four, hogging most of the big action beats and defeating the majority of the flick’s foes. Jai Courtney, A Good Day to Die Hard (2013), amps up the tough-guy persona with his depiction of the fierce Dauntless leader, Eric, whereas Ashley Judd, Double Jeopardy (1999) — popping up in dream sequences and simulations as Tri’s mother — looks as though she were inserted into the picture for marketing reasons, whilst Ansel Elgort, The Fault in Our Stars (2014), is relatively bland this time around as Caleb Prior, who randomly reveals that he has been working for the Erudite faction all along. Kate Winslet, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), appears to be relishing her wicked role as the ruthless Jeanine Matthews, but Miles Teller, Whiplash (2014), surprisingly saves the day with his portrayal of the hot-blooded Peter Hayes, bringing a volatile personality to the saga’s most interesting character.

Watts new?
Watts new?

Admittedly, I was somewhat stunned at how close-ended this second Divergent picture finishes, setting up a solid climax, yet opening up another door for future installments. Either way, I’ve come to the realization that the Divergent series, with its warts and all, has become a guilty pleasure of mine — watching Watts act alongside Winslet is pure delight — and I find myself eagerly awaiting the two-part finale. Objectively, Insurgent is a better film than Divergent; it’s a faster paced, well-acted, follow-up, which surprisingly comes together in a satisfying conclusion, wrapping up its core story while clearly establishing the narrative hook for what’s to come. Flawed as it may be, I’m in for the long haul.

3.5 / 5 – Great

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

Insurgent is released through eOne Films Australia