D: Robert Schwentke. DP: Florian Ballhaus. W: Brian Duffield, Akiva Goldsman & Mark Bomback. Starring: Shailene Woodley/Theo James/Miles Teller/Ansel Elgort/Kate Winslet/Naomi Watts/Jai Courtney/Mekhi Phifer/Zoe Kravitz/Octavia Spencer/Ashley Judd/Maggie Q/Daniel Dae Kim. (Based on Veronica Roth’s novel of the same name)
In a market saturated with young adult adaptations, it is difficult to standout and stand alone within your series of films. The Divergent Series, written by 20-something Veronica Roth, chronicles Beatrice/Tris Pryor (Shailene Woodley) as she lives in a city built around factions defined by personality traits. Last year’s Divergent covered Tris leaving Abnegation (selflessness) to join the Dauntless (fearless) when she came of age. This year’s adaption of the second novel, Insurgent, picks the story up again with Tris on the run as the Erudite faction leader Joanna (Kate Winslet) continues to seek out and destroy anyone classified as divergent. Yes, that’s a lot of names. And no they aren’t all necessary.
Insurgent is the weaker of the two films, but for a variety of reasons that also have to do with the strength of Roth’s series to begin with. Now out of the faction training world, Insurgent must cover massive amounts of ground as Tris and her group of Dauntless go into hiding and then on the run. A beautiful overhead tracking shot opens the film, but is sadly used again and again. Joseph Trapanese’s score pulsates way too frequently, actually detracting from the drama and action onscreen. This simply is the more difficult book to tackle well.
What is probably the saving grace of the series is Woodley. Sporting her cropped hair needed for last year’s The Fault In Our Stars, Woodley does provide some realism and access to the heaviness of the choices Tris must make. However, unlike the previous film the audience gets so sense about the progression of her personal life. Not to gripe, but the decision to have sex with her boyfriend Four (Theo James) is a weighty and complex one. Here it is brushed past like it’s just plausibly acceptable, like the three male screenwriters simply did not know how to handle writing that scene. James is still all beef cake thunder as Four and the couple do have chemistry even if the age discrepancy from what Roth wrote gives me the giggles.
Insurgent certainly moves at a clip as it spatially must cover lots of ground and no one is given many chances to breathe. Sadly this means that certain characters are removed and plot beats changed. If the film were better this wouldn’t be a bother. What surprisingly doesn’t elevate the series is Winslet as the baddie, despite her best efforts. Her cold is just not cold enough. But she’s better off that Naomi Watts who appears as the factionless leader who doesn’t look powerful enough to have ever been in Dauntless, no matter how much metallic eye shadow is slathered on her face. I think it’s a diservice to audience by Summit to have us try to believe this dystopian reality is crumbling, but the potential new leader has time for a full face of make up? While they live in a warehouse…
Ultimately, Insurgent is able to handle its violence realistically with the tole, like in the novels, weighing heavy on its characters. Yet the end seems surprisingly upbeat, which makes me wonder what else might be changed down the road. The special effects during the simulations are also beautiful, but did not warrant a 3D release. Lastly, what can be taken away from the film is the humor and charm of Miles Teller. An actor not to miss from last year’s Whiplash, watch out for him and go back to see his film The Spectacular Now with Woodley, just might change your viewing of this series.