God, you guys can't know how much I put off watching this film. Having found Divergent to be absolute torture, I was not in any hurry to put myself in for another two hours of that particular brand of pain. Schedules and obligations (such as the obligation to review every film in a series once I've started) being what they are, however, at nine last night I loaded up Insurgent and settled in to watch.
Is it better than Divergent? Yes! Is it the cinematic equivalent of the colour beige? Yes!
Picking up an unspecified amount of time after the end of the first film, Divergent sees our merry gang - consisting of Tris and Four, both 'Divergents' who don't fit into the caste system of a futuristic Chicago, her Erudite brother and their Dauntless frenemy - hiding in the quaint farm compound of Amity, the peaceful faction. Before long, however, their nemesis Jeanine comes looking for them, as she requires a Divergent to open a mysterious box which, she says, contains data that will justify her obsession with Divergents. As Tris and Four go on the run, they find themselves at a community of armed Factionless, at the headquarters of the honest faction, Candor, and finally at Erudite's headquarters.
If that synopsis sounds clumsy and anguished - and it does, you needn't be kind and say it doesn't - it's because while the plot of the first film is 70% boring filler and 30% people talking about how unique Tris is, the plot of this second film iis 30% people talking about how unique Tris is and 70% total chaotic mess. I'm not convinced anyone - from Veronica Roth to the screenplay writers to the director to the cast - had any idea where this plot was meant to be going, as the characters stumble from nonsensical set piece to nonsensical set piece, mumbling flimsy justifications as they go, occasionally being interrupted by a fight or chase scene that, more often than not, just materialises out of nowhere with no adequate explanation.
|People running with guns. It's a recurring theme.|
The entire plot, such as it is, hinges on Jeanine wanting to open a box which can, for reasons which are not very satisfactorily explained, can only be opened by a Divergent (and later can only be opened by Tris), which pushes the already shaky and frankly ridiculous science of the series straight into 'pretty much just magic' territory. The film tries to explain this at one point with 'the person opening it must be put through five hallucinated sims that test the qualities of each of the factions', but the sims are, with the exception of the Dauntless sim, all laughably easy.
'Can you figure out that this obvious fantasy with numerous inconsistencies in it isn't real when you know that you're going through a series of simulations?' is the task placed before Tris for the Erudite sim, and I cannot imagine a scenario in which anybody wouldn't figure that out. Similarly 'Will you kill this defenseless man?' is the scenario for Abnegation, the selfless faction, and - well, not only can I not imagine many people failing that one, but I also don't really see how that tests selflessness. If anything, that tests mercy, kindness, and peacefulness, which are the qualities of an entirely different faction. For Candor, the test is 'Will you answer this simulation of your loved one truthfully in a private conversation?' and again, who would fail that one? Telling the truth in private, to someone you trust, with no consequences is easy.
I'm talking about the 'factions simulation' sequence of the film a lot because it's meant to be the dramatic climax of the film, combining character development with action with a mind-bendy, dreamlike atmosphere - and it falls entirely flat, because it doesn't feel like it's a genuine challenge for our protagonist. For the most part, it doesn't feel like it would be a genuine challenge for anybody.
|The costumes are nice-ish, at least.|
In a better film, that might be forgivable, but Insurgent is not a better film: It is, nigh-on from start to finish, messy and bizarre and just boring. Shailene Woodley and Theo James are, to be entirely frank, not very good actors at the best of times, and they are very much not giving this film their best effort - and most of the rest of the cast is middling to mediocre at best. There are a few standout performances - Kate Winslett, Octavia Spencer, and Daniel Dae Kim are excellent - but with the exception of Winslett, they're all in relatively minor roles.
(And don't think I haven't noticed that your five person central cast is composed entirely of white people, film, with people of colour only showing up in minor roles.)
Ultimately, there isn't really anything good I can say about this film. It is a bad film, adapted from a bad book, and there aren't even the seeds of a good idea here: Its premise is ridiculous and seems to hinge entirely on playing to people's vanity, its plot is nonsensical at best and dull at worst, its cast of characters are flat and the actors playing them are bland, and even the film's production values and cinematography leave a significant amount to be desire.
If you see one film this year, then don't let it be this one. If you see ten films this year, then don't let any of them be this one. If you see a hundred films this year, then maybe consider watching this, if only so that you can mock it to your friends.