Well, Divergent made a bunch of money so now we have Insurgent. That’s the reason that this sequel exists and it sure feels like it. Certainly the final product gives off the impression that no one involved with the movie had much invested beyond the fact that the production will likely make a ton of money and a boost the marketability of their respective careers. They’re probably right too. There’s nothing wrong with movies existing purely for commerce. Hollywood is a business after all. It’s just a shame for audiences who actually show up for something like Insurgent. Sure, it’ll be clear to anyone watching that this sequel is very expensive and they will have gotten their money’s worth of CGI spectacle. But, it’s too bad that a movie so encumbered by allegory and big sweeping societal generalizations presented as a message actually has so little to say.
So, if you saw the last movie you’ll know exactly where this story-in-progress left off last time and if not, don’t worry, Kate Winslet will explain it to you. Basically, we’re back in a vaguely dystopic future world where everyone in society is assigned a social group and function based on an adjective. The system kind of works, but the people feel repressed (you know, like the class and nationalism systems and blah blah blah). Our heroine is played by Shailene Woodley and she’s a real thorn in the side of this regimented society because she’s filled with so many qualities related to inner strength that she doesn’t fall into any one group. Actually, she falls into all of them (making her a divergent, like the title). Woodley figured that out by the end of Divergent and ended up getting in a big battle against the stuffy leaders of this world along with her hunky/caring boyfriend (Theo James).
Insurgent kicks off with Winslet’s ice cold leader blaming Woodley for all of the catastrophes from Divergent’s climax. So Woodley goes into hiding, eventually meeting up with a revolutionary group (led by Naomi Watts in black eye shadow that makes her seem evil-ish) who want to rebel against this repressive system. While Woodley and co. struggle to decide if they want to revolt, Winslet starts tracking down all of the divergents to help her open up a secret box with a secret message from the secret folks who founded this society. It turns out she needs an extra special divergent to do it and wouldn’t you know it? The protagonist of this franchise is extra special! Then a bunch of stuff blows up and there’s a cliffhanger. The end.
Once again, The Hunger Games casts a long shadow over every single plot beat, character, costume, scene, and idea in Insurgent. This movie franchise only exists because of all the money that the Hunger Games series continues to make and it shows. It appears as though director Robert Schwentke and co. spent more time studying Hunger Games sequels while mounting this production than they did paying attention to their source material. As a result, everything in the film is tediously calculated to try and trick audiences into thinking they are watching the latest Hunger Games movie. Unfortunately, like all photocopies, the quality has faded in transition and nothing feels quite right. Sure there are all the big emotional beats, CGI-heavy action sequences, and grand statements of social commentary that should, at least in theory, move us and thrill us like a Hunger Games movie, but nothing ever quite connects as planned.
Part of that is because this series is far dumber than the other one, so it’s never as profound as it thinks it is. Part of it is because Schwentke’s skill with action storytelling never stretches beyond staging a bunch of expensive explosions and hoping for the best. And part of it is because we all saw a far better version of this exact same movie a few months ago and even it wasn’t that great. Yep, Insurgent is a big ol’ waste of time, money, and resources. Unfortunately, it’s also one guaranteed to be a big hit because the timing and manipulative calculation are right.
Now, that’s not to say that Insurgent is completely devoid of any quality content. There are some very talented cast members who do their best. Shailene Woodley is a major young talent and she tries so damn hard to elevate the mediocre material she was given that you’ll wish there was an Oscar for “Best Effort” like a public school track and field day. Winslet and Watts are of course long time talents incapable of bad performances, so they made their cardboard villainesses (Or are they? Hmmmmm…) feel like they are two-dimensional rather than one-dimensional. Then there’s Miles Teller, a live wire who injects the few moments of fun into the movie in what amounts to little more than an extended cameo since his career was in a far better place when Insurgent contract negotiations rolled around than he was when he made Divergent. Those four folks are fun to watch doing pretty much anything and Insurgent proves that fact (you need only look at how lost every other actor feels to notice how good those four folks are). Unfortunately, the movie surrounding them simply isn’t worthy of their talents.
Insurgent is not a disaster (and it could have been given that Batman And Robin screenwriter Akiva Goldsmith was involved), but it is a deeply mediocre movie that would likely disappear without a fuss if it wasn’t part of the obscenely popular YA sci-fi genre that’s the current big blockbuster trend. I suppose if you somehow were intrigued enough by Divergent to want to see the sequel, it’s worth a look. However, if you noticed how empty this series was the first time, there’s absolutely nothing here that will win you over. If anything this big, dumb, expensive mess of a sequel will likely lose franchise fans rather than bringing any new converts into the fold.