THE DIVERGENT SERIES: INSURGENT
DIRECTED BY Robert Schwentke
STARS Shailene Woodley, Theo James
Kate Winslet and Shailene Woodley in The Divergent Series: Insurgent (Photo: Lionsgate)
Folks often unfairly dismiss critics as unrepentant cynics and pessimists, but my view toward the Divergent franchise when it debuted last year was positively Pollyannaish. As I wrote when reviewing the first film in the series based on Veronica Roth's YA novels, "It's a movie that gets better as it proceeds, and it's easy to imagine the series as a whole working in similar fashion, with each subsequent installment better than the one which preceded it."
The Divergent Series: Insurgent actually takes a step back from its so-so predecessor, imploding with such finesse that if this one bombs (ha, fat chance) and plans for another sequel are scrapped, I won't exactly be looking at the 2016 release calendar with mournful, puppy-dog eyes. To be fair, this one actually gets off on the right foot, as the courageous Tris (Shailene Woodley), her equally stalwart boyfriend Four (Theo James), her weak-willed brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and the duplicitous Peter (Miles Teller) find themselves branded as fugitives in the future world overseen by the unfeeling bureaucrat Jeanine (Kate Winslet). Clearly, it's time for a people's revolution, and with Katniss Everdeen nowhere to be found, it's up to Tris to lead the way. That proves to be difficult, though, with the bad people (including Jai Courtney's Eric) constantly in pursuit and the good people (including Octavia Spencer's Johanna) reluctant to help out. What's more, Jeanine has come into possession of the Tesseract — well, it looks like the Tesseract — and it's determined that she'll need Tris' unwilling aid to unlock its secrets.
For a good while, Insurgent is fairly engaging, even if the shifts in loyalty among its central players are obvious straight down the line. But the second half of the picture proves to be a chore to endure. A string of fantasy sequences allows the picture to get swallowed up by expensive and uninvolving effects, Tris' improbable pity parties overwhelm the storyline, and the ceaseless series of last-minute rescues ultimately rises to risible levels. Worse, Tris and Four never grow as characters, while Winslet's Jeanine continues to register less as a formidable movie villain and more like that strict teacher you had in 10th grade who always assigned too much homework.
Ah, well. At least the casting of the kids provides some inadvertent amusement. The opening scenes find Tris in plenty of tight shots with Four, Caleb and Peter, and it's amusing to note that while James plays Woodley's boyfriend in this series, Elgort had that honor in The Fault in Our Stars and Teller assumed that position in The Spectacular Now. Shailene and her three beaus? Sounds like there's a sitcom in there somewhere.