Insurgent Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Octavia Spencer, Jai Courtney, Ray Stevenson, Zoë Kravitz, Ansel Elgort, Maggie Q
Director: Neil Burger, Robert Schwentke
by Michael Clawson of Terminal Volume
If you ever find yourself at a hotel at the same time as a tax seminar for accountants, pop your head into a conference room and listen to the table banter, and then marvel: “This would make a great movie!”
The writers of The Divergent Series had a similar “eureka!” moment when they waded through the murky melodrama of Veronica Roth’s young adult novels, about teens obsessing over dialogue so inane that nearly every word is meaningless without some kind of long-lost decoder ring. “Dauntless is conspiring with Abagnation. Erudite and Candor are helpless. Not even Amity can do anything.” “We need a full-blooded Divergent to open the box.” “The Factionless are in the war with us against Abagnation.” You could find more interesting dialogue in a parts manual for a 1998 Tercel.
We descend further down the rabbit hole of mindless plot points with Insurgent, the sequel to last year’s ambitiously wrecked Divergent. Recall from the first movie, a dystopian future world is broken down into five factions: Erudite, Amity, Dauntless, Abagnation and Candor. There is no reason for the factions, except the big reason: teens like reading about characters being separated into groups. It’s why there is a Sorting Hat in the Harry Potter books, districts in the Hunger Games, tiers of professions in last year’s stupendous Giver, and all the pouty-faced beast races in Twilight.
Amid the five factions are the occasional Divergent, a person whose very soul can’t be classified into any faction. Villain Jeanine (Kate Winslet) can’t stand Divergents — something about how band geeks just aren’t allowed to sit at the lunch table with cheerleaders and football players — so she wages a violent war against the factions that shelter them. The star Divergent is Tris (Shailene Woodley), who’s the Neo of this absurdly designed Matrix.
Tris runs around with a Lost Boys-like gang of other Divergents and faction turncoats — including two ex-boyfriends: Ansel Elgort from The Fault in Our Stars, and Miles Teller from The Spectacular Now — without a coherent plan except to kill Jeanine, who believes in the faction system so tremendously that there is nothing the film can do to justify her passionate devotion.
Yeesh, this movie! It just goes nowhere and does nothing. So much time and energy is spent convincing us that these factions are important, or not important at all, that the charade can’t sustain itself for a whole movie. We visit the Amish hippies of Amity, who are so cheerful you want to sock them. Later, Tris and company board a train full of Factionless, who are proto-punk hooligans with bad haircuts. In one particularly awful segment, Tris and her current boyfriend Four (Theo James) are captured by Candor, whose motto is apparently “Truthiness Forever.” Candor bigwigs inject them with a truth serum, which reveals at least one truth: even with all barriers removed from their thoughts, these are boring people.
The biggest problem is that everyone’s motivations are absolutely confounding. It feels like the film is marching toward an abolishment of the factions, but why and for what purpose? Most people in factions seem to like their factions, so what reason would they have to join Tris and fight the oppressive system? And Jeanine only wants martial law, which is movie code for “I’ll do whatever I want,” an act that will allow her to preserve the faction system for no other reason than “just because.”
The film does end on a high note, with Tris confronting five simulated challenges within a mysterious box found in the rubble of her parents’ home. The box promises to hold secrets that are important to the plot, and it lives up to those promises. If only this box would have played a more significant role earlier in the film.
Although the movie looks great — some of the special effects, especially in the mystery box, are awesome — and has a talented cast, Insurgent can never break out of its broken premise, to which every character, every plot point and every syllable of atrocious dialogue bows in idolatrous worship.