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Film Review: ‘The Divergent Series: Insurgent’


Insurgent is a frustrating film. Not because of its flaws, but because of its strengths. What are these strengths I speak of? Namely, the cast. Shailene Woodley is a sizable talent. Kate Winslet’s trophy case is probably over-flowing. Theo James brings real life to a fairly blandly-written character. Miles Teller is magnetic. You’ve also got actors like Naomi Watts, Mekhi Phifer, Octavia Spencer, and Ray Stevenson in there. These people can all bring the goods. Too bad the film itself is just so flat.

I liken my experience watching this movie to watching the EKG of someone who’s in a coma. It’s basically a calm, mostly straight line with mild blips. Every once in a while you’ll see a big blip or two and think, “Is this it? Are they about to wake up?” Instead of waking up, though, it flatlines and then starts over again. 

Those peak moments are provided, almost entirely, by the performances of Woodley, James, and- especially- Teller. The chemistry between the first two is palpable, and feels almost as authentic as the sparks between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone in the Amazing Spider-Man movies. But just as Garfield and Stone’s chemistry couldn’t save those movies, neither can James and Woodley’s stop Insurgent from feeling listless. Teller, in the mean time, manages to steal every scene he’s in. 

One thing that kept my viewing of the film sort of stuck in neutral was the slapdash way that the story is told. During some of the movie’s most tense scenes I’d become disoriented. Not by the usual culprit, either. Yes, I’m looking at YOU “shaky cam”! No, there’s none of that here. The disorientation arises whenever there’s a sudden shift in power, or of who has the upper hand, in a given scenario. During a few of the confrontations, I couldn’t tell who the good guys were and who the bad guys were cause they all look practically identical. Alongthe way, characters would disappear, reappear, and just seem to get kicked on or off the screen based on their ability to move the plot forward.

So with all these little reversals and 180s taking place, it was hard to get invested because half the time I was wondering things like, “Wasn’t she just being escorted out by a giant team of goons? Now there’s only two?” “Did the two unarmed leads really just take out an entire train car full of baddies? I guess so. Oh wait, no. There they all are again.

Another example of how the writing just fails to grab you in a meaningful way is this singular example:

At one point, our heroes are faced with a really grim dilemma. Turns out about half of the rebel army has these devices installed in them that could make them all commit suicide. Oh, and these devices, which have several little tentacles, are designed to latch onto the closest major artery they can find. So if you try to extract them, they sever the artery and kill you.

Pretty gruesome, huh? How are they going to figure out how to deactivate them? James’s character, Four, declares that they have to find a way to disable them. Sounds like a plan!

Well, don’t worry about that, actually. In 25 minutes, that entire threat will be neutralized by…a single, vague line of dialogue spoken in passing. “Oh, so-and-so figured out how to remove them. All of them.” And that’s that.

That’s the kind of writing that makes Insurgent so hard to get into. 

It’s all setups and reversals, and you’re constantly left back at zero because none of the sequences mean enough to push you far enough in any particular direction. Even moments that are tailor made for “Hell yeah!” reactions- like the killing of major villains- happen so abruptly, and are moved on from so quickly, that you’re left like, “Oh. Okay. I guess that’s the end of that.

The only truly redeeming parts of the film are the aforementioned Woodley, James, and Teller. The supporting cast is exceedingly talented but vastly underutilized, and the bit players are all faceless and add nothing one way or the other. 

And if you’re someone like me, who likes to try and find the deeper meanings and figure out what films like these are metaphors for…be prepared to see what they’re going for and then witness them miss the target. 

Two final observations:

  1. The henchmen in Insurgent make the Stormtroopers in the Star Wars movies look like SEAL Team Six.
  2. This movie should be renamed Watch Shailene Woodley Cry For 118 Minutes.

Still, for even having a few moments where the EKG peaked, and for the moments when the talented cast was allowed to elevate the material, I’ll be somewhat generous with my grade. And it does end on a relative high note. Those things made this film not a total waste of time, and I can absolutely see how/why the film’s target audience of teenage girls will eat this up. 

Oh, and as usual, unless it’s a James Cameron film you can pass on the 3D. It added nothing, and only made an all ready dark, gray-toned film even darker.


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