By Nick Anstett
Elm Staff Writer
I try to find a nice variety for the films I review for The Elm each week with a difference of genres and target demographics. However, I guess something must be said that this is my third review of a young adult dystopian film I’ve done this year with all three coming from different franchises. (This doesn’t even take into account the third “Hunger Games” film.) The market is saturated with these takes on American youth of the future taking on tyrannical and mysterious governments, and each of these are slowly melting into each other to form a bland homogenous mess. The second film in the “Divergent” franchise, “Insurgent,” presents the genre as its most uninspired, showcasing a clear step downwards from its mostly serviceable first installment.
With war between the different factions eminent, Divergent Tris (Shailene Woodley), her Dautnless boyfriend Four, her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort), and her perpetual rival Peter (Miles Teller) have taken shelter in the farming community of Amity. However, Erudite’s mission to become the true ruling faction of the City takes a turn when their attention turns towards hunting down the remaining Divergents, who their leader Jeanine (Kate Winslet) believes have the capabilities to access an ancient message that may help to save their future.
If that sounded convoluted and poorly defined to you then that’s because it is. The world the “Divergent” series inhabits has never made particular sense, and “Insurgent” takes it one step further. A dystopian series at its very core should have carefully constructed world that has the capability of social allegory. Part of what has made the “Hunger Games” franchise so particularly successful is the easy applicability of its content to discussion regarding reality television, news media, and government censorship. The closest thing to “Divergent’s” central concern appears to be with the American educations system, but any attempts to tap into this are too nebulous and hesitant to really have anything of merit to say. We never really truly care to see the Faction system topple because we haven’t yet been convinced of why exactly it’s so terrible. In fact, we’ve barely even begun to understand it.
It doesn’t help that much of the rest of “Insurgent” battles near constantly to rob itself of any identity. In a way, this shouldn’t be a surprise, seeing that director Robert Schwenkte’s filmography includes such eye gouging pieces of entertainment as “RIPD.” Almost everything about “Insurgent” slouches along with minimal personality or effort. Its action scenes are lifeless and sluggish and somehow end up being less engaging than the already unimpressive pieces of human drama present throughout. Some of the most talented women in Hollywood, Octavia Spencer, Winslet, and Naomi Watts, each appear in sporadic bursts that add up more to bit parts that waste the incredible talent on display.
“Insurgent” does possess a visually striking third act in the form of a virtual reality test that Tris must navigate in order to discover the secret of the City’s past. It allows for some creative set pieces that bend reality in appropriate ways. However, even these sputter out for a conclusion that feels like the onscreen representation of a defeated shrug. Almost as if to “Insurgent” the thought of establishing a unique identity is too daunting a task for the film to take even as it tip toes towards it.
Woodley tries her best with the material presented and turns in the closest thing to a strong performance that “Insurgent” possesses. Woodley shows clear talent and despite her character’s familiar arc and personality, she manages to add a level of understated thought and emotion to her role.
“Insurgent” represents the young adult genre at its most half-hearted. Everything about its presentation, script, and even its now traditional two part conclusive sequel feels dreamt up in a board of increasingly cynical studio executives as they troll the shelves of their local Barnes and Noble. It may entertain fans of the series for fits and spurts, but it’s truly hard to muster any care for a franchise that seems so indifferent to its own existence.