Faction before blood, or in this case, genre before story. In a series/franchise that struggles to separate itself from other YA (Young Adult) novel-turned-movies, Insurgent fails to live up to the expectation and hype that it generated. To her credit, Shailene Woodley (Tris) gives it her very best; but, her constant struggle to support the dystopian narrative is quite evident. The quality of the movie should come of no surprise due to the teaser trailer’s sub-par, CGI-driven, look. For the lovers of digital effects, this movie is in no short supply. However, it is this type of over-the-top and, at times, gaudy special effects that creates a flashy movie nearly devoid of a substantial plot. In trilogies and franchises, it is vitally important that the middle film(s) advances the plot and highlights crises, chaos, confusion, and emotion instead of just being filler to bridge the gap between the beginning and the end. Clearly, this installment in the Divergent series serves as further evidence that sequels often suffer and rarely live up to the audience expectations setup by the previous movie.
This installment of the Divergent series entitled Insurgent takes us back to the walled city of former Chicago. After the massacre of Abnegation, Erudite leader Jeanine Matthew (Kate Winslet) asserts that the Dauntless faction is responsible for the deaths of nearly all Abnegation. Furthermore, she connects the Divergents to Dauntless and issues orders that they are to be seized or killed because of the threat they impose on life in the “peaceful” city. Tris (Woodley) and Four (Theo James) desperately search for allies in the looming war that appears to be manifesting with every passing day. Both Jeanine and Tris endeavor to uncover the answer as to what was so important that Tris’ parents sacrificed themselves. Many secrets will be revealed to friend and foe as the quest for answers to the past ultimately point to the future of the factioned and factionless. In this quest for freedom and power, new power-hungry peoples will rise and seemingly unsurmountable challenges will face our heroes as the people of ruined Chicago attempt to bring about peace to the city and eliminate any and all threats to the way of life that has been such a part of its citizens for many decades.
I don’t typically look to the YA genre for impeccable acting and narratives rich with subtext and substance; but I do look for high concept, well-crafted movies that keep my attention for a couple of hours. Just because a movie fits into the YA-Dystopian genre, doesn’t mean that it has to follow every trope and hesitate to introduce new concepts. Unfortunately, Insurgent just seems to be like most other movies in this genre and runs the risk of boring the audience. Keeping the audience’s attention is crucial, especially when many members of the audience already know what’s going to happen due to having read the books. Even though I believe that a movie based on a work of literature (or a play) needs to keep true to the source material, it is also equally important for the writer and/or director to add something new–something unexpected–to keep anticipation high and build suspense as the story unfolds.
Just like a singular cinematic narrative must, under most circumstances, follow the classic three-act structure, the same is also true for a trilogy. Paralleling the respective three-act structure in each individual film in a trilogy, the trilogy itself is encumbered to follow in suit. If you are unfamiliar, the three act structure consists of: The Setup, The Confrontation, followed by The Resolution (or realization). Within each of the acts are various plot points; and between the first & second and second & third acts, there are two crucially important, and major, plot twists to transition and advance the plot. In an ideal and well-produced trilogy, the first movie should be the “setup,” the second installment should serve as the majority of the “confrontation,” and the third movie should highlight the “resolution.” What we have with Insurgent is a movie that pretty much doesn’t advance the plot nearly as much as it should have. This leads to the poor pacing and mostly hollow narrative. There is some meat there, but not nearly enough to fill two hours. In other words, it feels as if the movie mostly just treads water instead of heading for the finish line.
Insurgent definitely contains some entertainment value; but, I cannot say that it was an entertaining as the previous installment. I have not read the books, but if this movie keeps true to the novel, then the writers and director should have taken the creative liberty and adding in material that would have increased the visual storytelling quality of the film, without breaking from the very essence of the story. Hopefully, this filler movie has paved the way for a dramatic and exciting finish with the next movie Allegiant. Comparing it to other sequels, it fairs about the same; but, if you have some extra time this weekend, it could serve to keep you mildly entertained for a couple of hours.