For starters, here’s a caveat for this week’s review: I am not a teenage girl, so I acknowledge that I am not the target audience for “Insurgent.” Now, the caveat to my caveat: I am also not the target audience for “Frozen,” but I can still tell a good movie when one is present.
“Insurgent” is not a good movie. What it is, instead, is a long, poorly paced snooze-fest written by people who have no idea how young people talk, what they like or how to properly convey any kind of emotion other than the same kind of blank glare one sees in Abercrombie & Fitch ads.
“Insurgent” is the second installment in the series of films based on the wildly popular trilogy of young adult books written by Veronica Roth. “Insurgent” picks up the story a short time after “Divergent” ends. Tris (Shailene Woodley) and her companions are now fugitives on the run, hiding from the Erudite faction and its power-hungry leader, Jeanine (Kate Winslet). From this point the movie diverges from the book fairly heavily, so you might get lost if you have only read, rather than watched, the story.
Most of the conflict centers on a box that was hidden in Tris’ family home. Her parents sacrificed themselves in the first film while protecting it. It can, for reasons not entirely explained, only be opened by a “divergent” like Tris, so Jeanine is on the lookout for one. Jeanine needs a divergent, Tris is a divergent, so, as Seinfeld might say: yadda, yadda, yadda, their paths eventually cross.
We have seen a ton of these young adult, post-apocalyptic films based on books lately: “The Hunger Games,” “The Maze Runner,” these “Divergent” films… They all run largely down the same track. There is precious little to actually differentiate them from one another, which means that the people actually making them have to find something to make them stand out. For “The Maze Runner,” that meant really ramping up the aesthetic and giving the thing an unblinkingly dark feel. “The Hunger Games” shied away from the darkest parts of the story, but it has Jennifer Lawrence working in its favor.
But “Insurgent” has neither of those things going for it. The settings — while at times genuinely beautiful — always feel soulless. Nothing about any of the sets feels genuinely lived-in or real, leaving the actors to do all of the heavy lifting. And that is a challenge to which nobody rises. Woodley has been praised for her to-the-hilt performance in “Divergent,” but I think that is simply a matter of degrees. In truth, she is an only-OK actor who has in these films been placed alongside Theo James and Jai Courtney, two young men who are so stiff and emotionless they could have been replaced with cardboard cutouts of themselves and the movie would have lost none of its emotional pull while saving the studio a few hundred thousand dollars in salary.
But the worst sin for which “Insurgent” can be found guilty is one of insulting its audience. When looking at films geared toward younger people, it is immediately apparent how smart the filmmakers think this audience is — and director Robert Schwentke does not think his audience is very smart at all. Time and time again, screenwriting and editing choices seem to be made under the assumption that the audience would not notice it was dumb, so long as the film felt “cool” enough. Plot holes, horrible leaps of logic and genuinely laughable dialogue all combine to make “Insurgent” a large step backward from its predecessor and light years away from its young adult competition. CV