Directed by Robert Schwentke
Starring Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Octavia Spencer, Jai Courtney, Ray Stevenson, Zoë Kravitz, Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort, Maggie Q, Naomi Watts, Kate Winslet
Insurgent is the much awaited sequel to young adult dystopian novel, Divergent (which I think I also reviewed for the Bad Movie Marathon), and set in the same future world in which all of mankind is allegedly dead and the only survivor’s live hidden behind a giant wall in a partly bombed out Chicago, divided into one of five factions; clever Erudite; kind and peaceful Amity; compulsively honest Candour; selfless Abnegation; fearless Dauntless. Each faction is dominated by one particular personality trait and teens are sorted into their factions at the age of 16. If you don’t have enough personality, you become factionless scum. If you have multiple personality traits and could be part of more than one faction, you are Divergent and are super scary and likely to be hunted down. You also get magic powers.
Our heroine in the last film, Tris, was revealed on her 16th birthday to not only have the magic power of being able to dye her hair and do her eyeliner with no access to a mirror (due to being raised in saintly Abnegation) but was also Divergent. She hid this, joined Dauntless, wore skin tight black and got tattoos, became kick ass and foiled a plot by the evil
Cruella de Ville Kate Winslet as head of the Erudite faction to kill Abnegation and take over, because Ravenclaw are just cooler than Hufflepuff, damnit. Then she got on a train to ride off into the sunset with her hunky (if slightly wooden) love interest Four.
This film picks up directly after that. Tris and Four and some other Dauntless and Abnegation refugees are living with the lovely fluffy Amity faction out on the country where they apparently are living the Quaker dream (seriously! All of the lovely Shaker style design, lots of Earth tones and I think I saw most of the accessories in the Oxford Meeting House’s shop, in the Fair Trade section). However, Kate Winslet reveals a previously hidden backstory as to why she had to kill an entire faction (apparently to protect the faction system, which didn’t make sense to me. But what do I know? I’m not part of the special Smarticus club. But Abnegation were hiding a special box which she needs to protect the world or something, but it can only be opened by a Divergent. So there you go) and now needs to round up the fugitives from the last film. And Tris has been sitting in pacifist central wanting to go and shiv up Cruella anyway, so she’s all good with starting a fight. And it’s all on again.
What’s wrong with it?
I am still not convinced by the new back story. I’m sure someone will come along soon to explain that in the books it was beautifully telegraphed and was part of the story all along, but as I’ve not read the books I’m going to ignore this and just say that in the films it really came across as a writer pulling a bunch of exposition out of an orifice where it probably shouldn’t have been stored. If Kate Winslet was so devoted to the faction system which did she spend the entirety of the last film basically undermining it? Why didn’t she mention the special box before? Why doesn’t she know what the box does or what the message from the founders is likely to be? It all seems rather sketchy.
And the plot never really develops from there. The film just determinedly has bad guys in black turn up and do evil stuff, while Tris looks angsty and mopes about how difficult it is to be the only three dimensional teenager in the world. Four broods and pouts. Both Tris and Four have mother issues – Four hates his mother for abandoning him and Tris mopes because her mother died in the first film. Tris’ moping and her survivor’s guilt and endless adolescent agonizing about how hard it is to be special and magical is periodically put forward as extra proof of her extra sensitivity and differentness. She ends up in a weird sim created by the box to prove her Divergent worthiness to open the box and hear the founder’s message, which has killed every other Divergent who’s tried it, and one of her tests is “can you be honest to your mother about how you feel miserable about everything”. Seriously! Another is “when a physical representation of yourself turns up to yell in a slightly straw man fashion about how evil you are for being alive, can you snap out of the self pity and decide that you will forgive yourself for the bad things you actually didn’t it”. And this killed everyone other than Tris who tried it? No other Divergent had ever been given access to a teen magazine?
Eventually, Tris’ friends, including an army of Factionless (who I still think get a rough deal in this world. There are really hundreds of people with no personality at all?) break up to rescue her from Kate Winslet, the magic box is opened and the founders pop up in hologram form to reveal that this was all a test! All of it! The world outside isn’t a wasteland, you sillies! People just were all horrible so the founders decided to set up a weird little test tube bubble where they could use their technological sorting hat to divide people into factions and see if that made them peaceful, while they waited for the Divergents to come along and then, through their multiple personality traits and magic powers, they would save the world! Go Tris! Even the magic hologram says you’re the special-est. Tris and her friends broadcast the hologram to the city and everyone starts walking towards the walls. The end. Except for the bit where M Night Shyamalan sent a complimentary copy of ‘The Village’ to the film makers to make a point.
The world continues to be a Young Adult Dystopia By Numbers, the lessons of the film are mostly those that might seem profound to a 13 year old (it’s OK to be more than one thing, you are special, bad things aren’t always your fault, and it’s sad when your mum dies) but really shouldn’t be profound to anyone else and the bad guys seem to act largely out of general malevolence (Jai Courtney’s evil Dauntless sidekick to Kate Winslet apparently shoots children for the hell of it, Kate Winslet alienates her minions by telling Tris to execute them if she wants, she doesn’t care, and then is surprised when said minion changes sides again). The infrastructure of the city continues to confuse me – the super Quakers do the farming, but who repairs the roads? – although that might explain why they have awesome simulators and holograms but haven’t managed to sort out the urban decay and bits of broken concrete everywhere.
And no one has gone beyond the wall in 200 years? Really?
What’s right with it?
It made me appreciate the first film slightly more? At least that was an inoffensive YA by numbers. This is just remarkably bad.
Visually, it remains quite pretty – I really liked the Amity farm lands, the odd mix of the technological and the broken down in the city is fun and the different factions with their colour coded uniforms are always striking and a lot is conveyed through the cut of fabric and the aesthetic of the different living quarters; Candour wear rigid black and white and stiff collars and need clear cut truth; Amity wear soft flowing tunics in earth tones that look comfortable and pleasant and like to hug; Dauntless, alone amongst the factions, all have body piercings and tattoos because they are adrenaline junkies. Also, Candour never sit down. They have no chairs anywhere in their quarters. I’m not sure what that says, but I found it interesting.
How bad is it really?
It isn’t offensive. It isn’t racist, or sexist or particularly evil. It’s just very dumb and very bland. I wouldn’t judge anyone who liked it. I’d just be mildly confused.
You see, the single most damning indictment of this film is that I can’t really find one. I guess I quite liked the opening sequences in the Amity farming village? I kept thinking I’d like to live somewhere like that. It looked quite pleasant.
And I did appreciate the constantly adapting Dauntless-turned-Erudite-turned-Dauntless-henchman again, Peter. At least he seemed to be thinking on his feet, and moving with the times, and most of his betrayals had a reason. Appreciate your minions, people! Kicking them just because they are skinny and a bit weasally leads to badness! I like this as a moral lesson.
What’s up with…?
- How the living hell did the evil Dauntless thugs manage to fail to shoot Tris and Four as they stood in the middle of a patch of open ground shooting back? Especially as Tris and Four slaughtered loads of the thugs who were shooting from cover amongst the trees. Are Tris and Four that much better with guns? Or is taking cover an active disadvantage in this world?
- Why were there no repercussions for the five or six Factionless that Tris, Four and Caleb slaughtered on the train before Four ‘fessed up to being Tobias Eaton and the son of the Factionless’ leader? Did everyone just forget about them? If Tris’ big weakness is her compassion, as everyone claims, why does she never think about them again?
- How does Tris do the stuff she does to her hair? She randomly decides to cut off her hair with a pair of scissors in the woods while having an angst attack and comes back with a fresh set of blonde highlights and stylish pixie cut. Is this some extra Divergent power no one has told us about?
- Is Four even still Divergent? He was in the first film, but this appears to have been conveniently forgotten in the sequel.
Production values – Visually, it’s pretty. I like the look of it and it’s clearly been thought through. 5
Dialogue and performances – This very much depends on how much you like scenery chewing, and whether you demand any kind of genuine feeling or complexity in your writing. It’s noticeably worse than the first film and several bits which were meant to be emotional made me laugh out loud. 17
Plot and execution – They invented the back story! I swear to god, it wasn’t there before. 18
Randomness – I think I’d have welcomed a little more random! It was just very very tedious and painfully predictable from the moment it dredged up the message from the Founders. 2
Waste of potential – I’ll actually score this higher than the first film. The first film was dull but reliable. This takes that potential and squanders it on nonsense. And Tris’ cute new pixie cut. 15