Abnegation, Action, Amity, Ansel Elgort, Candor, Dauntless, Drama, Erudite, Kate Winslet, Literary adaptation, Naomi Watts, Review, Robert Schwentke, Sci-fi, Sequel, Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Thriller, Veronica Roth
D: Robert Schwentke / 119m
Cast: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet, Ansel Elgort, Miles Teller, Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer, Jai Courtney, Mekhi Phifer, Zoë Kravitz, Maggie Q, Daniel Dae Kim, Jonny Weston, Ashley Judd, Ray Stevenson, Tony Goldwyn, Janet McTeer
In the aftermath of the attack on Abnegation, a search reveals a box that contains all the faction symbols. It’s taken to Erudite where Jeanine (Winslet) reveals it holds a message from the city’s elders, but only a Divergent can open it; this leads Jeanine to order that all Divergents are rounded up. Meanwhile, Tris (Woodley), Four (James), Caleb (Elgort) and Peter (Teller) are hiding out in Amity, under the protection of their leader Johanna (Spencer). Tris is all for returning to Erudite and killing Jeanine but Four warns against acting so hastily: they need to be a stronger force before they can attack the ruling faction.
Matters are brought to a head when Dauntless leader Max (Phifer) arrives to look for any Divergents. Peter reveals their presence but Tris, Four and Caleb manage to escape on a train that takes them into Factionless territory. There they meet Evelyn (Watts), the Factionless leader who, it turns out, is Four’s mother. She advocates a coalition between Factionless and the remainder of Dauntless. The next day, Tris, Four and Caleb leave to visit Candor, where the remainder of Dauntless have taken refuge. On the way, Caleb tells Tris he can’t go with them and they part. In Candor, their leader, Jack (Dae Kim) arranges a trial to determine the truth of Four’s insistence that Jeanine is lying to the other factions. A raid by Max and Eric (Courtney) leads to Tris being tested and found to be 100% Divergent. The raid is unsuccessful though and Tris is rescued by Four and Candor. At Erudite, Peter tells Jeanine the best way in which she can trap Tris. With the lives of all in Candor at risk because of Tris’s presence there, she determines to turn herself in.
At Erudite, Tris is apprehended and taken in front of Jeanine. She explains about the box and has Tris hooked up to it. In order to open it, Tris has to pass each Faction test, something none of the other Divergents abducted by Jeanine has managed. With Caleb having rejoined Erudite, and Peter also on their side, Tris can only hope that whatever message the box holds, that she will survive the ordeal long enough to learn what it is, and what it means for the city.
After the prolonged set up and introduction of each Faction and the world they support that made up most of Divergent (2014), you’d think Insurgent would be less reliant on large chunks of awkward exposition. But it’s not the case, as this instalment introduces new characters and broadens the original’s scope. This leads to more explanations for everyone’s behaviour and more occasions where the not-exactly-complicated story has to be explained every step of the way (as if the audience wouldn’t be able to keep up). Which is a shame, as this time around, Tris’s newfound place in her world is much more interesting and exciting to be a part of.
Weighed down by the expectations that come with cinema’s version of “middle child syndrome” (and even though Allegiant will be released in two parts – damn you Harry Potter!), Insurgent gets a lot right. It ups the action content, makes the heroes more heroic, the villains more villainous, and ends with the news that we’ve all been waiting to hear: next time we go outside the wall. The movie couldn’t be more designed to please its audience, both existing and new. And that’s another factor that makes the movie work: you don’t have to have seen Divergent to work out what’s going on. Such is the care that’s been taken with the adaptation of the book, that even though there are huge chunks that are missing (including whole storylines), it’s a tribute to screenwriters Brian Duffield, Akiva Goldsman and Mark Bomback that this is a well constructed, and surprisingly streamlined version that holds its own and isn’t reliant on the first movie.
It also moves the characters forward in unexpected ways. Tris is hell-bent on killing Jeanine which isn’t the usual approach in a YA movie (you’d never expect to hear Katniss Everdeen sound so vehement about President Snow as Tris is about Jeanine). It’s refreshing to see someone be that blunt and not harbour any deep-seated guilt or reservations about the rights or wrongs of such a thing; Tris is resigned and more importantly, she can’t wait to do it. As for her love interest, the taciturn Four, we get to see him deal with a greater authority than Eric or Max, or even his dad: his mother, presumed dead all these years and as determined to get Jeanine almost as much as Tris. While he wrestles with his emotional scars, Tris gets down to the task of taking out Jeanine; it’s like he’s not even supporting her anymore.
Of course, true love overcomes any dispute or disagreement and Tris and Four leave their differences behind when it comes to overthrowing Erudite, and although the message in the box is one that only readers of the novel will have seen coming, it’s still a treat to see it revealed in such a dramatic, world-upsetting way. It’s yet another way in which new director Schwentke keeps things interesting and the viewer on their toes. He makes judicious use of the new cast members, with even Watts (who has Big Villain written all over her) required to keep it simple and not detract from the main storyline, that of Tris learning to forgive herself for the deaths of her parents and the turncoat Will. Woodley, still the best thing in both movies, shades her emotions with ease and presents a version of Tris that is still learning but who’s also streets ahead of her rebellious companions (but then she is Divergent).
The rest of the cast offer and provide excellent support, with special mention going to Courtney, Spencer, Watts and Teller, though Elgort is still stuck with possibly the blandest character in the whole series, and suffers as a result; he just can’t make him interesting. Winslet is icy and controlling and strangely attractive because of all that, and steals each scene she’s in. The final scene robs us of a major character and is a great way to end this movie and set up some of the dramatics of the next, but it also feels like a bit of a cheap shot at the audience’s expense. What, do we ask, does that mean for Tris and Four and all the rest? Well, to find out, tune in next year!
Rating: 7/10 – better than Divergent, and better assembled, Insurgent shows the franchise gaining in confidence and moving ahead in the right direction; not without its flaws – Peter is still an annoyingly underwritten character – the movie packs a lot in and, on the whole, makes it all work with a great deal of panache.