Mark Reviews Movies



2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Robert Schwentke

Cast: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet, Ansel Elgort, Miles Teller, Jai Courtney, Naomi Watts, Mekhi Phifer, Ashley Judd, Daniel Dae Kim, Octavia Spencer, Maggie Q, Zoë Kravitz, Ray Stevenson

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense violence and action throughout, some sensuality, thematic elements and brief language)

Running Time: 1:59

Release Date: 3/20/15

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Review by Mark Dujsik | March 19, 2015

Apparently, I thought the world established by Divergent was less silly in the moment than it felt later. Of its five-caste system of "factions," I said the movie (Forgive the following act of self-quotation) "is very clear about its five-tier arrangement of a futuristic society," and I also said "[F]or the most part, the 'factions' here make sense." That, of course, is about the system itself. The movie's opinion of it was less clear and didn't make much sense. After all, it was a movie in which two groups fought over which of them would take control of that system. Either way, the system wins, and the movie didn't even start to question whether or not that social arrangement was a good thing until near its finale.

Insurgent, the sequel to Divergent, is a slightly better, clearer movie than its predecessor. It is more upfront with its goals. Gone is the necessity of world-building and establishing the central conflicts. Instead, it's a simple chase movie. The sequel isn't as confused about its politics. Here, that social system is a bad thing and not just because an evil faction is in control. The factions themselves are alien entities for the movie's heroes. They only participate in the system when it's necessary, such as when they need to hide from their enemies or have been captured by one caste or another. They have moved beyond the concept of this society, and for the most part, so has the movie.

By shrinking the focus, the second movie in this series (based on a trilogy of books by Veronica Roth) has expanded the potential of this world. By the time the movie arrives at its sequel-setup of a conclusion, it has reduced it even further, abandoning everything we thought we knew about this post-apocalyptic society while leaving a series of questions and a slew of possibilities. Chief among those questions is the most important one: whether the new boss will be the same as the old boss (The answer is left for the final movie or, if the unfortunate trend of splitting the final installment of adaptions of young-adult book series into two parts continues with this franchise, movies).

Lest this review start to sound too positive, let's be clear: This is only slightly better than the last movie, with "slightly" being the key. There is still a multitude of problems with this material. The characters are paper-thin and barely constitute archetypes. The plot's focus on the chase is refreshing but only in comparison to the rambling, repetitive narrative of the previous movie. The bad guys are too non-descript to serve as much of a threat, and despite their affiliation with the allegedly brainy Erudite faction, their plans are as dim as their motives are hazy.

The sequel picks up with the fallout of the slaughter of the entire Abnegation faction. Jeanine (Kate Winslet), the leader of Erudite, has placed the blame for the killings on the rebellious, nebulous clan of Divergents—those members of society whose personalities are too well-rounded to fit in a single faction. Tris (Shailene Woodley), her boyfriend Four (Theo James), her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort), and the mischievous Peter (Miles Teller) have been hiding out among the Amity faction, trying to evade Jeanine and her newly formed anti-Divergent task force of warriors from the Dauntless faction.

As an example of how the screenplay by Brian Duffield, Akiva Goldsman, and Mark Bomback reduces the movie's overly complicated world to something more manageable, take two sets of scenes. The first is set within Amity and the second at the headquarters of the Candor faction. Within these sequences, the movie clarifies a lot about the workings of each caste through repeated mantras ("Go with happiness," at Amity and, "The truth will set you free," at Candor), set rules, and leaders who personify the best of their order (Octavia Spencer, playing a friendly but fair matriarch, in Amity and Daniel Dae Kim, playing a wryly intelligent judge, in Candor). There's also the addition of Four's mother (Naomi Watts), who hopes to be the new boss who might not be that different from the old one. It's simple stuff, but it works with a level of succinctness that the previous movie never attained.

The plot, which eventually rests on a box containing a message from the founders of this society that Jeanine believes will put an end to the Divergent threat and put her in power, is a threadbare collection of scenes of our heroes running and fighting in between other scenes of half-hearted romance and betrayals. The story here makes less sense the more one thinks about it, and there's no sense to some of the particulars (a raid on Candor where 1.) the anti-Divergent task force puts everyone to sleep except the people who could be a threat and 2.) the survivors of that force either  escape capture or are released for no logical reason). The climax, which puts Tris through a series of simulated tests of her various strengths, is a neat but, without any attachment to her, hollow idea.

Yes, lowered expectations after the last movie probably work in favor of Insurgent. That still doesn't mean catering to low expectations is a virtue.

Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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