Monday, July 27, 2015

Movie Review: Insurgent

Directed by: Robert Schwentke.
Written by: Brian Duffield and Akiva Goldsman  and Mark Bomback based on the novel by Veronica Roth.
Starring: Shailene Woodley (Tris), Theo James (Four), Kate Winslet (Jeanine), Ansel Elgort (Caleb), Miles Teller (Peter), Naomi Watts (Evelyn), Jai Courtney (Eric),  Mekhi Phifer (Max), Octavia Spencer (Johanna), Zoë Kravitz (Christina), Ashley Judd (Natalie), Ray Stevenson (Marcus), Keiynan Lonsdale (Uriah), Maggie Q (Tori), Daniel Dae Kim (Jack Kang), Janet McTeer (Edith Prior).

The middle book or movie in trilogies are often my favorites – and the reason is fairly simple. There is no need for a lengthy set-up, which are all usually the same, as the film has to establish the rules and characters of the world that they have created, and since the story doesn’t really end, it just stops, there’s no need for boring “wrap-up” sequences. Basically, the middle part of a trilogy is all the good stuff, with none of the filler – at least in theory. That isn’t the case with Insurgent, the second movie in the Divergent series, which is almost entirely filler. There is very little actual content or story here – we don’t really learn anything new about this world, or its conflicts, and what we do learn doesn’t really fill two hours’ worth of screen time. I dread the third installment of this series – Allegiant – in part because the book (and yes, I read all three Divergent books) is absolutely horrible, and also because, like all YA franchises now, the studio have decided to split the book into two – for purely artistic reasons, I’m sure.

In Insurgent, our hero Tris (Shailene Woodley, who pretty much singlehandedly keeps these movies watchable) has copped off her hair (and somehow in this post-apocalyptic world, seemingly got highlights as well), and is now on the run with her boyfriend Four (Theo James, who in these movies seems like a poor man’s Sam Worthington), and two other, less willing companions – her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort), who doesn’t really trust his sister, and the hated Peter (Miles Teller, who at seems to know how ridiculous the movie is, and decides to have some fun with it). As you will undoubtedly recall, the leader of the Erudite faction, Jeanine (Kate Winslet) had brainwashed the Dauntless faction into killing the Abnegation, with only Divergents, like Tris and Four, being immune. Jeanine is still trying to completely take over – but in order to open up a super-secret box, she needs a Divergent that she can put through five “simulations” that will ensure some very important information gets revealed. The faction system is cracking, the factionless (led by Naomi Watts), want to take over – and of course, Tris is the key to the whole thing.

If that previous paragraph read like incomprehensible goobly-gook, then, you can probably stop reading this review know, content in the knowledge that Insurgent is not the movie for you. Like The Hunger Games before it, the Divergent series is a series of young adult books, and now movies, with a teenage girl heroine, in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, trying to take down an enormous power structure. Unlike The Hunger Games – either in book or movie form – the Divergent series isn’t very good – the whole faction system makes no sense, and while Susan Collins, writer of The Hunger Games, was smart to make her heroine, Katniss Everdeen, smart and brave, and yet realize she is still a pawn in the game, that everyone tries to use, Veronica Roth of Divergent really does see Tris as some sort of noble, self-sacrificing saint – the only one who can save the rest of humanity.

You have to give Woodley a lot of credit in these movies. Tris is a fairly impossible character to play – a boring character really, who spends a lot of time obsessing about how special she is, and her sins, even though no one really blames her for what has happened. She spends most of her time either crying or having to kick ass – with a few moments to look lovingly in Theo James eyes. There’s not a lot to play her, but damn it, Woodley does everything she can to make the role work. It doesn’t – but I don’t much blame her for it.

In fact, I’m not sure I much blame the filmmakers behind Insurgent for the fact that it’s such a boring experience to watch. Director Robert Schwentke is one of those anonymous studio directors, who specialize in action movies (Flightplan and RED are among his other films), and the action is handled fairly well here, even if it relies on slow motion too often – and slow motion that makes the slow motion in Zack Snyder movies look better by comparison. Almost all of the actors are better than they need to be in the movie – with Oscar winners and nominees like Winslet, Watts alongside Octavia Spencer and Janet McTeer, and fine young actors like Teller and Zoe Kravitz wasted in their roles.

The problem with Insurgent is the source material. It’s just really, really bad – and so the only way to make it better would be to change it, and the legions of fans of the source material would get really mad about that, so they’re kind of stuck. When you have bad source material, how good can the movie really be?

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