‘Insurgent’ movie review: Divergent franchise takes a step backward in lame sequel

Internal logic takes a holiday in Insurgent, the sequel to last year’s Divergent and adaptation of the middle book in Veronica Roth’s young adult trilogy. While the film looks good and is blessed with a talented young cast, it’s ultimately a big ball of absurdity; at some point along the way I simply gave up trying to make sense of it all.

It doesn’t help that every third scene is either a dream sequence or a computer “simulation” designed to mislead the audience. Frequently, I found myself wondering just how long the dream or simulation stretched back to. So was he —? Did they —? This whole time?

At the heart of the film is Lemarchand’s box from the Hellraiser series. None of the characters seem to know what it is or does, but that doesn’t stop them from fighting to the death over it: at various points in the movie, both the villain and the hero are fighting to get it open, and keep it closed. Why they think they know what’s inside of the box, what they think is in the box, what they plan to do with what’s in the box, what’s actually in the box – it’s all beyond my comprehension.

The Hellraiser box is dug up by Erudite goons at the beginning of the film, in the rubble that was once the Prior house. In this future, a very brief prologue reminds us, the world has been decimated and the remnants of civilization have been living for the past two centuries in a crumbling Chicago. Here, citizens are placed into five factions based on their personality type – Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, and Erudite – and lead society in union. 

Only, at the end of the last film, Erudite staged a coup to take total power using Dauntless as their muscle, wiping out Abnegation in the process. At the outset of Insurgent, survivors including Divergent Tris (Shailene Woodley), love interest Four (Theo James), brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and Dauntless bully Peter (Miles Teller) gather at the Amity, which is led by Johanna (Octavia Spencer).

But when the group is chased out of Amity by Dauntless traitors led by Eric (Jai Courtney) – who are searching for a Divergent to open that box – they have to take it on the lam. Luckily, even in a decimated post-apocalyptic Chicago, there are still trains coming along at just the right moments to cut off the bad guys from the good, and let our heroes hitch a ride, hobo-style.

The rest of the film is all about Tris coming to terms with forgiving herself for shooting her mind-controlled friend in self-defense in the previous film, continuing her relationship with Four (briefly – romantic aspects take a backseat here), and wrestling with revenge for the murder of her parents in the last movie. 

Tris is out for blood – or is she? – and sets her sights on Erudite leader Jeanine (Kate Winslet), responsible for the bloodbath at the end of Divergent. She may accomplish that by teaming with Four’s estranged mother Evelyn (Naomi Watts, donning a brunette ‘do and heavy makeup to appear even younger than her onscreen son), who leads the Factionless.

But action elements in Insurgent are few and far between; most of the “fighting” scenes involve entire squadrons of armed guards coming out of nowhere to initiate an instant surrender. Even in the villain’s high-security lair, when our heroes are pinned down by gunfire… bam! Allies show up pointing big guns. Now we’ve got slightly more people than you in the same room – time to give up, guys. 

Poor Kate Winslet. Her character drives most of the plotline by searching for the perfect Divergent to open that damn box. “I thought all Divergents were the same…” she wonders aloud at one point, speaking to no one in particular. “But some of them are more powerful!” This line is delivered with the same sudden-clarity conviction as that guy from Troll 2

I found most of the first film surprisingly engaging: Divergent was an inherently silly but well-assembled Hunger Games-esque riff from director Neil Burger that kept things interesting until the absurd action climax. 

Insurgent, meanwhile, is nuts from the get-go. Director Robert Schwentke (RED, R.I.P.D.) displays little feel for the material, and simple coherence is a huge problem for the duration. Not only did I struggle to understand the driving forces of the plot, but individual scenes seemed completely lacking in logic. 

Take, for instance, the part where bent-on-revenge Tris takes a hostage behind a glass wall, and Jeanine defiantly dares her to shoot. Tris pushes the hostage away, aims at Jeanine, and fires three shots into the bulletproof glass. In the very next shot, however, the hostage is now standing next to Jeanine, having made his way into the other room. Apparently, Tris only needed to walk through the door on her right to be able to kill her target.

This is not the only sequence in the film I struggled to comprehend, but by the end I gave up the struggle. Producers lucked into a great cast for this franchise (Whiplash’s Miles Teller came to regret signing on) but this second entry strands them all on the screen (and just what is with Woodley’s godawful high pitch-cum-vocal fry scream, used repeatedly?) Things aren’t looking bright for trilogy finale Allegiance, which of course will be turned into two movies to maximize profit.


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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