DIR: Robert Schwentke • WRI: Brian Duffield, Akiva Goldsman, Mark Bomback • PRO: Lucy Fisher, Pouya Shahbazian • DOP: Florian Ballhaus • ED: Stuart Levy, Nancy Richardson • MUS: Joseph Trapanese • DES: Alec Hammond • CAST: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Theo James, Naomi Watts
In an industry where practiced weariness at pop culture clichés has become a cliché in its own right, it can be hard to know how to approach franchise fodder. Hollywood chews up a thousand interesting ideas for every one it spits out, but occasionally something self-aware speckles our chin and we can wipe our collective faces and be glad. So it was armed with awkward metaphors and an open mind that I sat down to review Insurgent, the second entry in a series that was rapidly dubbed an Aldi-brand Hunger Games the moment it slipped off the YA assembly line.
Certainly, it shares many of the hallmarks; we follow Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley), a tween saddled with survivor’s guilt after her daring escape from a future dystopian Chicago costs the lives of her mother, father, and many of her friends. Tris is Divergent, genetically predisposed not to easily fit into any one of the five factions on which the security of this future society rests, and thus a threat to the entire system. So far, so bleh.
Where the film gets truly interesting, however, is in its own reflection of an admittedly simplistic core concept. As the heroes fend off an attack on board a moving train early on, Tris is left dangling inches above the rails as her brother Caleb watches on. An erstwhile member of the most cerebral and ruthless of the factions, Caleb has already expressed misgivings about their rebellion, reasoning that while the faction system is certainly oppressive, it also provides stability in a post-war society – which the very existence of his sister threatens. For the brief moment in which his face becomes cold and impassive as his sister fights to survive, I thought I might be watching a very different kind of film indeed.
But alas, Insurgent is not 30 minutes long but 119, and the hour and half to follow only compounds the overriding flaw that prevents it from being anything other than a reasonably-priced anaesthetic for the arse – namely the inability to allow well-acted, interesting archetypes to aspire to any more shading than your average stick figure.
Strung together by SFX-ridden set pieces, the rest of the plot sees Tris and co. flee Kate Winslet’s Aryan librarian (libr-Aryan?) antagonist to meet up with the obligatory black-clad insurgents, led by a severely-underutilised Naomi Watts. The cast manage to wrangle as much as possible from the material, Woodley in particular bringing some raw nerves to an otherwise blank slate, but it is ultimately not enough to rise above the film’s many flaws – weird science and henchman myopia but minor among them.
The very cause that our heroes fight for – the idea that we are all born equal, despite how society might try to divide us – is regularly undermined by conflicts resolved only because Tris is superior – genetically so- and it’s a core contradiction that ultimately defines the entire film. With a plot so deeply focused on the idea of breaking free from constraints placed upon us by time-honoured tradition, Insurgent’s overriding inclination is to play it safe.
12A (See IFCO for details)
Insurgent is released 20th March 2015