Shortage of Spark Makes ‘The Divergent Series: Insurgent’ a Second-String Effort

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Average: 3 (2 votes) Oscarman rating: 2.5/5.0
Rating: 2.5/5.0

CHICAGO – “The Divergent Series: Insurgent” does nothing to change the “Divergent” series status as an off brand Young Adult epic. As we’ve seen with “The Hunger Games,” these Young Adult franchises can be lots of fun and be faithful to their source material. But “Insurgent” has the same problem as the first two “Harry Potter” films – it’s too faithful, coupled with a dearth of inspiration behind the camera.

Director Robert Schwentke and screenwriters Akiva Goldsman, Mark Bomback, and Brian Duffield are more interested in playing it safe than in creating anything memorable. This series only lands glancing blows when its emotional arcs should lead to blockbuster knockouts.

Shailene Woodley as Tris in ‘Insurgent’
Photo credit: Lionsgate

The film picks up shortly after the events of the first film, and picks up the pace. Tris (Shailene Woodley) and her fellow Divergents are on the run after main baddie Jeanine (Kate Winslet) declares martial law and promises to stamp them out once and for all to preserve the class system inside the futuristic digitally decayed Chicago. Woodley portrays a credibly complicated heroine. She’s bloodthirsty for revenge after the deaths of her parents, but also not exactly sure that killing Jeanine will solve her problems. Her brother (Ansel Elgort) is extremely uncomfortable with life on the run and longs for a return to the fractured order of the faction system consisting of Amity, Dauntless, Abnegation, Candor, and Erudite.

Miles Teller is an especially welcome presences as the scheming sometime frenemy Peter. Teller brings a much needed dose of humor and attitude to the proceedings, and the movie is always more entertaining with him in it. Which makes it such a shame that he disappears for long stretches so we can focus on Theo James as her main squeeze “Four.” To call his performance wooden would be far too generous. He’s such a dull blob of bland he makes even Josh Hutcherson look like a “Notebook”-era Ryan Gosling by comparison.

Winslet stays firmly in Ice Queen mode-all steely glances, and the determined authority of a queen of industry out to get what she wants at whatever cost. She wants to stamp out Divergents but she also needs to capture one to open a mysterious box that was hidden in Tris’ parents house. and which supposedly contains a message from the founders of their society. which Jeanine hopes will give her the mandate to take complete power. I’m not sure the movie would be any better if Winslet had morphed into a latter day Al Pacino, and chewed the scenery and hissed her lines with a mischievous villainy, but it might have been a more entertaining one.

Theo James, Miles Teller (center) and Shailene Woodley in ‘Insurgent’
Photo credit: Lionsgate

The movie keeps on moving, but narratively it never develops much momentum. The set pieces are competently staged, but nothing more. The special effects expensive, but repetitive. When the story comes to a fork in the road, the camera makes sure the decision is never really in doubt-lingering on the preferred outcome so as to telegraph to its audience it won’t be messing with them. Even when Four’s supposedly dead mom (Naomi Watts) shows up with the train riding futuristic hobos known as the “factionless” looking to lead a revolution, it doesn’t pack much of a punch.

Part of the problem is the movie relies on the old “it’s only a dream” and it’s slightly higher tech variant “it’s only a simulation” at least half a dozen times in the first hour. This narrative tic stops the movie dead in its tracks each time and becomes more annoying than anything else. In the end, the film is just like its frequently used visual effect – it disintegrates on impact into a digital cloud of pixels that fades from memory as it simply drifts away on the gentle breeze.

“Insurgent” opens everywhere on March 20th. Featuring Shailene Woodley. Kate Winslet, Naomi Watts, Miles Teller, Theo James and Octavia Spencer. Screenplay adapted by Brian Duffield, Akiva Goldsman and Mark Bombeck, from the novel by Veronica Roth. Directed by Robert Schwentke. Rated “PG-13” contributor Spike Walters


© 2015 Spike Walters,

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