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New Release Review - Insurgent

Second installment of the Divergent series.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Robert Schwentke

Starring: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Theo James, Kate Winslet, Miles Teller, Naomi Watts, Jai Courtney, Zoe Kravitz, Maggie Q, Octavia Spencer, Ashley Judd



If last year's Divergent was Star Wars, its quickly turned around sequel Insurgent is The Empire Strikes Back, the middle section of the franchise, and an installment that's significantly darker than its predecessor. Gone are the pop tunes of the first movie, replaced with a brooding Zimmeresque score by Joseph Trapanese. The production design is considerably pared down, with interior sets that owe a lot to the aforementioned Star Wars sequel (an overhead shot is a clear visual reference to a key moment of Empire). And Woodley's Tris is in full-on action heroine mode, sporting a sleeveless vest and a tight haircut. It's a movie that's much more serious in tone than the first. Too serious. It's positively glum.
The story picks up with Tris and her buddies living among the peace-dwelling Amity faction. Tris is displaying signs of aggression and is determined to assassinate her nemesis, Erudite leader Jeanine (Winslet). When Jeanine's minions arrive on the scene, Tris and chums are forced to flee, making their escape on a train bound for the city. There they hook up with a factionless er...faction led by Evelyn (Watts), who also plans to take down Jeanine.
The opening act establishes a handful of intriguing subplots, but they're strangely dismissed and never referred to again, as though the three screenwriters who worked on this each wrote one of three acts without looking at the others' work. Instead the story lurches from one action set-piece to another, many of which take place in a simulated scenario that sucks out any tension we might have otherwise experienced. Despite positing Tris as an all-action feminist icon, the film consistently puts her in scenarios that require the male characters to bail her out of, and for the smartest person in the room, she doesn't half make some dumb decisions.
The central premise established in the first movie made little sense, and after viewing its sequel it's even more baffling. We're told Tris is no less than 100% divergent, yet her actions throughout the series completely contradict this notion. Her constant aggression rules out Amity, and with so many poor choices made on her part, she's far from Erudite. As for the factionless, well presumably they have no discernable traits, yet Watts's Evelyn seems like the sort of smart cookie who should be a member of Erudite, while her small army behaves like they'd be a perfect fit for Dauntless. The lack of logic in this series' concept still hasn't been tackled in a sufficient manner, and this second installment just digs itself into a deeper hole by taking the whole affair so seriously.
Thanks to the success of The Fault in our Stars and Whiplash, this series can now boast three of Hollywood's hottest young stars in Woodley, Elgort and Teller, but the latter two are wasted here, as are the likes of more established talent like Spencer and Watts. Winslet is given nothing to do beyond mumbling angrily to herself while playing with a tablet, like a cross between the Wicked Witch of the West and a weather presenter. Even Insurgent's leading lady looks decidedly bored throughout, and it's easy to surmise she'd rather be making another Fault in our Stars or White Bird in a Blizzard than the second rate Hunger Games wannabe series she's saddled herself with.




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