You can listen to a podcast review of this film below:
INSURGENT is the second instalment of the Divergent series based on the popular young adult novels by Veronica Roth. I didn't review the first film even though I did see it on DVD. The movie just struck me as so derivative and banal and mechanical that I just couldn't be bothered. There wasn't anything bad about it per se - it was slick and well-acted for the most part - but there wasn't anything to get me excited either. Sadly, that characterisation applies to the sequel too. It's well-made, well-acted for the most part, and full of great CGI action set-pieces. But it's so mechanical, so derivative and so predictable that I found myself watching it in a rather mechanical way - utterly detached from the emotional journey.
The movie picks up where the first one ends. We are in a dystopian post-apocalyptic world ruled by an evil dictator played by Kate Winslet. Humanity has been split into factions based on their dominant personality trait in order to keep the peace. Our heroine, Triss Prior (Shailene Woodley) doesn't fit into this neat sorting hat, and while she has joined the meat-headed Dauntless faction in the first film, is actually Divergent - possessing multiple character traits. The final set-piece of the first film sees Dauntless framed for an attack of a Faction, so that Triss and her boyfriend, Four (Theo James) are on the run. They are soon flushed out into the city and run into another set of rebels, called Factionless, led by Four's estranged mother (Naomi Watts).
This set-up gives us the two emotional journeys of the film. Four resists having the Divergents band together with Factionless to fight the dictatorship because he resents his mother. And Triss feels such guilt at the events of the last film that she ends up surrendering herself to that dictator. The second emotional journey works better than the first because Shailene Woodley is simply a better and more engaging actor than Theo James.
This Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi plot point leads us to the second half of the film in which Triss has to unlock a McGuffin by defeating five simulations. The dictator believes that doing so will reveal a message that justifies her political repression. Naturally, we know that this will not be the case. But it does set up what could be a fascinating political struggle in the next movie. I find it interesting that in the classic movies where rebels are pitted against a dictator, it's never doubted that they will rule wisely and well when they come to power. By contrast, in this post-modern, cynical age, we are suspicious of these rebel leaders as of the people they topple. And so, I rather look forward to seeing Naomi Watts' character arc in the next film.
The other observation I would make is that despite their PG rating, these movies are violent. Not necessarily in terms of what they show on screen - this is balletic CGI violence rather than dripping blood and gore - but in their message. We are told that a young girl can take action and command her destiny. Great. But we are told time and again that the way to do this is through violence. The very poster for this film shows Shailene Woodley and Theo James with massive guns. And a lot of the action set pieces play as single-person shooters because they very heart of this film is the concept of the "sim" - a computer-game like simulation. I find all that rather depressing.
INSURGENT is on global release, has a running time of 119 minutes and is rated PG-13.