Insurgent Poster

Insurgent (2015) Movie Review

Ah, that story we ordered last year finally arrived.
My central issue with 2014’s Divergent – besides the open aping of the Hunger Games formula – was that not a whole lot actually happened in it. We got training. A lot of training. And by the time our plucky young Woman of Destiny (Shailene Woodley) found something of substance to do, the credits were rolling. Insurgent comes up with more in the way of legitimate narrative, which represents a big step up from where its predecessor left us.
Sadly, it all still feels like an afterthought, as post-apocalyptic-young-adult franchises run amuck through our multiplexes and any of them not involving Jennifer Lawrence are battling for also-ran status at best. Insurgent boasts a sufficiently interesting world to hold the eye, and its routine good guys/bad guys conflict benefits from a few strong performances in the mix. But beyond that, it holds nothing more profound or interesting to bolster its middling credentials: another sound and noise machine too calculated to find a soul.
The world achieves its zing thanks to a high-tech variation of Harry Potter’s sorting hat. In the far future of Chicago, human beings are divided into different castes based on their personality. All goes well until the ambitious leader of the Erudite caste (Kate Winslet) launches a coup, catching Tris (the aforementioned Woman of Destiny) up in her schemes and drawing clear battle lines for control of the city. Tris is Divergent, you see: sharing traits of all five castes and thus an imminent-but-annoyingly-vague danger to The Way Things Ought to Be.
The film goes overboard to clarify the specifics, then quickly subsumes it all beneath sneering villains, righteous beat-downs and various flavors of CGI going ‘splody all over the screen. It actually works best in the conceptual stage, when its funky world breaks out a little bit and shows us how humans might really function in such a society. But those moments never last, and the mediocrity surrounding them becomes hard to take at times.
None of it feels wrong, precisely, but you sense a deep void beneath the surface. If you poke through the basics of the drama, Insurgent doesn’t have a lot going for it. Oh, we get the shopworn Hero’s Journey spiel about believing in yourself, and some fair-to-middling political shenanigans to keep us from dozing off. But in terms of ideas, we don’t go much further than “evil Kate Winslet must be stopped before she takes over the world.” In a market this saturated with similar movies, that proves poisonous.
The rest of Insurgent does well enough for itself (in that nothing is actively offensive), and the set pieces are delivered with resolute competence throughout. It holds the attention in a basic way, and Woodley carries enough charisma to make us root for her amid the sound and noise. But frankly speaking, that’s been par for the course for decades, and if they can’t manage more, there’s no shortage of superior alternatives out there.
And like its predecessor, it starts to get interesting right when the curtain falls: promising more wonders ahead if we only sit tight for another eighteen months. Granted, the twist here holds some juice, and if they play it right, the finale of this little opus (broken into two movies, naturally) might actually make the long journey there worth it. But this kind of bait-and-switch never reflects well on the series attempting it, and while franchises higher up the food chain can be forgiven when they slip, this one lacks the depth or complexity to excuse such a naked cash grab. You need a lot more to ask for favors like Insurgent does… and at this stage, the audience shouldn’t have to beg.

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