If You Thought the First One Was Bad
A Film Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
The construction of a world is arguably the most important task in a narrative. It provides the encompassing setting for the rest of your story to make any sense. Even if you have decent characters and plots, if the world that you have built to encompass those very things doesn’t make sense, the rest of it simply doesn’t work. Harry Potter works because the Wizarding World is constructed so intricately, seamlessly integrated into the real world. Westeros feels authentic in A Song of Ice and Fire because the writer grasped the painstaking task of making a world where seasons come and go at the pace of years make lived in and crushingly real. The Divergent series has managed to do none of that. The series is so content in its mind-numbing mediocrity and utterly shameless ripping-off of other, better series, that it is at the very least a massive insult to the audience that will pay upwards of ten dollars for a product that isn’t worth a Redbox rental. The dystopian world of the series feels incredibly inauthentic, as if jumbled together in a ubiquitous pool of bleakness that permeates each and every single frame. Nor does the world make any sense to begin with. The factional divide sounds like a cool idea, but that idea is never fashioned from a concept into something concrete, something palpable. The rules of Divergent’s world don’t make any sense either and the movie commits the egregious error of breaking its own “laws” on a regular basis. Nor are the characters ever blended in with their surroundings in a germane fashion. The world of Divergent simply doesn’t make any sense and as a result, nor does anything else.
For a movie that was built on a production budget of $110 million, Insurgent looks cheaper than the first installment of The Hunger Games and that alone is saying something. But Insurgent isn’t the first installment of a franchise, it’s a second installment that knows it is guaranteed to make a profit in the veins of Catching Fire. But while Catching Fire actually improved on its predecessor by an exponential amount by pouring its enlarged budget into the appropriate resources, Insurgent does the complete opposite. It’s simply laziness that is just throttling the viewing experience from the visuals on out because no one was seemingly bothered to put in an ounce of effort visually. Some can point to the dystopian world as an explanation for how dull the entire movie looks, but the word “dystopia” doesn’t give you the excuse to look exceedingly cheap. There’s a couple cool sequences visually nevertheless, when Tris is locked in this sort of simulator and she rushes out at Kate Winslet as everything sort of crumbles about the two adversaries. But even those sequences have less of a cinematic element than an equivalent dramatic weight that they require to truly function. Instead, there’s this incessant feeling that the filmmakers are trying to push you to buy the video game. Maybe the game is better.
The plot is fairly problematic in its adaptation. Having read the books and while I wasn’t the greatest fan of the text, Roth’s writing at least was able to get some of the plot’s intricacies into the light and that ability to somewhat make sense of this universe is completely lost in the film. Adaptations, as they are, are tricky beasts in and of themselves. No one realistically can expect all of the original text/film to be adapted scene by scene, but the script by Brian Duffield, Akiva Goldsman, and Mark Bomback is so abysmal that it somehow takes whatever makes sense in the text and makes it about a dozen times more befuddling. There is this Holy Grail-like object that suddenly becomes integral to the narrative and try as everyone might, it’s a dull plot device that stays on screen for far too long, no matter how intensely Winslet stares at it. What weakens an already dismally thin plot structure is the complete inconsistency of the characters within this “factioned” world. A key cornerstone of what Divergent tries to sell you is that Tris is Divergent and this immediately makes her a part of a special class of citizens that the dictatorial government is hell bent on destroying because they’d prefer not to have a multi-faceted citizenry. Sure, that makes sense somewhat and even though it’s a shaky foundation that raises questions like “Why would they give their citizens an option?”, it can be worked with. That concept, however, immediately falls apart when several individuals who are not Divergent act in a fashion that suggested that they were. When those moments are emphasized on screen, the story’s emphasis on Tris immediately drops any semblance of actual dramatic weight and the entire time you’re left wondering why anyone gives a crap about Tris at all or even the entire concept of divergence in the first place.
Outside of murdering its own central plot point on a regular basis, Insurgent also commits the cinematic treason of wasting what is otherwise a largely excellent cast. Ansel Elgort displays as much emotional range as he did in the first installment and The Fault in Our Stars (zero) but even Shailene Woodley, who is otherwise excellent in pretty much all of her performances gives the worst performance of her career. Tris is just not the role she’s truly made for. The first installment gave her some semblance of character depth she could play off of, but there’s just absolutely nothing here for her to tap into. In certain sequences, Woodley is demanded a heightened emotional range that she simply isn’t able to provide and instead her second stab at Tris comes across as being largely empty and void. Winslet’s evil villain is given as much depth as a piece of paper, her large reasoning for wanting to wipe out divergence being that she wants more power, perhaps? Naomi Watts an Octavia Spencer join in the tradition of Oscar-caliber actors who join a blockbuster production. It makes sense why the film would cast actors of such esteem into a young adult movie adaptation and when the thespians are used well (Harry Potter and to a lesser extent, The Hunger Games, are great examples of that), the narrative can be given substantial dramatic weight. Winslet may get the screen time required for her presence, but she gets no material that is worthy of her talent. Watts is treated even worse and Spencer is given about two scenes to make her mark. She does so, but it is inexcusable that in a film bustling with female actors of an esteemed caliber in positions of leadership, they receive such little in return. It’s all for show, with little substance behind it. Come to think of it, that could describe the entirety of this series. And now there are two more. Lord help us.
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Directed by: Robert Schwentke
Produced by: Douglas Wick, Lucy Fisher, Pouya Shabazian
Screenplay by: Brian Duffield, Akiva Goldsman, Mark Bomback
Based On: Insurgent by Veronica Roth
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Octavia Spencer, Jai Courtney, Ray Stevenson, Zoë Kravitz, Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort, Maggie Q, Naomi Watts, Kate Winslet
Music: Joseph Trapanese
Cinematography: Florian Ballhaus
Editing: Nancy Richardson, Stuart Levy
Production Company: Red Wagon Entertainment, Summit Entertainment, Mandeville Films
Distributor: Summit Entertainment, Lionsgate
Running Time: 119 minutes
Release Dates: March 11, 2015 (London premiere), March 20, 2015 (United States)
Image Courtesy: HDWallpaper.in