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Friday, March 20, 2015

Movie Review: Insurgent

Insurgent is amazingly bad.
WARNING: Major spoilers ahead.

Review by Matt Cummings

After the boredom and schmaltz that upended Divergent at only $150 million domestically, it was clear that the adaptation of the Veronica Roth series needed a serious tuneup. Sadly, a new director and promise of a better product made no difference to the bottom line, as Insurgent is just as bad - and perhaps worse - than its predecessor.

As Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley), her boyfriend Four (Theo James), her timid brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort, and the smart aleck Peter (Miles Teller) hide among the peaceful Amity people, the four try to deal with the events surrounding their fellow Divergent soldiers being routed during the last moments of Divergent. Pursued by the evil villainous Erudite leader Jeanine (Kate Winslet), Tris and her fellow Divergents have been targeted to open a sacred box held by Tris' parents (Ashley Judd and Tony Goldwyn), that will show Jeanine the way to destroy them. Meanwhile, the death of Tris' parents in the Abnegation War have left her emotionally scarred and filled with grief and guilt over losing them. But as Jeanine ups her pressure to locate the one Divergent who can open the box, Tris and her team form a response of their own, composed of fellow Divergents and the Candor leader Kang (Daniel Dae Kim). When the truth inside the box is revealed, each faction must deal with the consequences, while Tris tries desperately to keep those she loves from sharing the same fate as her parents.

The problems for Insurgent start early, as Tris and Four struggle to gain our attention while hiding in an Amity village, only to look as awful together this time as they did in Divergent. There's zero chemistry between them, something that's easily seen among almost everyone involved, except for the all-too-short appearance of Octavia Spencer, who tries to calm the Erudite henchman Eric (Jai Courtney). Both Elgort and Teller have felt totally out of place from the beginning, their roles relegated to the far ends of the spectrum, with one still the boob and the other as the funny man, but neither with anything substantial to say. Director Robert Schwentke does fashion a slightly tighter production, bringing some decent action from his experience with RED, but when it's time for the actors to start talking about how awful the future is, the heartbeat slows back to crawl.

There's so much wrong with Insurgent that it's hard to rank which faults are its most egregious. It becomes clear that Schwentke and the foursome of writers were clearly at odds over the film's emotional core. Is this a political film about race relations, a war epic with long-term effects for the caste system, or a teenybopper film with good-looking leads mouthing After-School Special dialogue? It's frankly slapped-together versions of all these, surrounded by Chicago-sized plot holes that defy explanation or reason. Teller switches allegiances so often - and for no apparent reason - that by the end we couldn't care less about his motives. While it's interesting to see Candor involved in interrogating Tris and Four, the sequence ultimately misses the bigger opportunity to expose Jeanine's plans and build a movement against her. And then there's the 'deflowering' scene, which feels not only awkward but totally devoid of passion.

But perhaps its most stunning failure lies in its ending, when everyone realizes they've been merely part of an experiment by The Founders, who in a well-written speech invite all factions to 'come home.' None of this had been tackled or even referenced before, with each side existing happily alongside the other; when this revelation arrives, everyone merely accepts it like sheep and begin to walk together outside the walls to an unknown future. There's no questioning by the factions, and no time for the audience to take it all in.

The bright spots - like set design - are few and far between. James is still the best person in my opinion to play a young Han Solo if that's ever made, and Courtney definitely made his mark before meeting a great end; but it's clear that both Winslet and Woodley might not have been the best choices for their respective roles. Neither seems to escape the core being of who they were when Divergent began. They fail to undergo any deep transformation, with Winslet still the baddie at the end and Tris still the passive. And don't even get me started on their chemistry when they meet in Act 3.

There's absolutely no reason to see this in 3D, and I'd also make a case not to see it at all. Insurgent is just as awful as Divergent, and in many ways critically sets the series back. News that Allegiant will be split up into two movies makes my ears bleed to hear, but perhaps by that time we'll either finally see a good movie or no one will care. Either way, this one's just too painful to experience.

Insurgent is Rated PG-13 for intense violence and action throughout, some sensuality, thematic elements and brief language and has a runtime of 119 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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