At this point, writing a review for another YA fantasy movie (or, worse, a sequel to another YA fantasy movie) seems like one of the more ungrateful tasks a movie reviewer can stumble upon. What is there left to say? And, no matter what one DOES say, the success of the movie does not depend on what the reviewers think. Still, they are such a massive part of the cinematic landscape these days – and an even more massive part of the box office results – that one cannot ignore them.
Insurgent is the second in the four-movie-series based on the Divergent trilogy novels (the desire to break up the final YA book in the series into two movies is maybe the only thing that seems even more unavoidable in Hollywood than the desire to start adapting another YA book series for the big screen). The first one was, well, almost surprisingly decent: a solid action movie populated with a above-average-charismatic cast, with some actual banter and sexual chemistry among them, as an added bonus.
The setting is, predictably enough, a dystopian future where the presumed peace inside a gated community is maintained by a caste system. Every teenager is assigned their future role in the society to their most prevalent characteristic, each person filling their duty box neatly, just another cog in the system, and no one discussing their civilizations dirty little secret: that some people could be a balance of different castes, and as such not easily compartmentalized and controlled. These people are called Divergents.
Tess Prior, played by Shailene Woodley, is Divergent and the second film finds her and her rag tag crew of caste misfits hiding from (BUT ALSO ON THE WAY TO GET) Jeanine, Kate Winslet’s icy head beaurocrat. At the same time Jeanine is looking for a perfect Divergent (you see, not even all Divergents have been created equal) in hopes of opening a box that she stole from Tess’ parents house, which may hold the key to their society’s future.
What happens over the next two hours is simply a prelude to the big reveal which is, naturally, supposed to make you want to EAGERLY await to spend more money on the third film, but then, you knew that going in. The second film is usually the weakest link in the chain – the one without major climaxes or closure, simply there as a middle child in between the overachieving older sibling and the spotlight hogging baby in the family. And Insurgent is no different.
It moves along at a decent pace but one action/dream/revelation sequence may as well be the next one. A major component of the plot are a series of “simulations” which are meant to test different strength’s of a person’s personality (in order to uncover that “perfect” Divergent balance), so the movie does feel often like a video game (seeing it in 3D IMAX doesn’t help its case). Now you’re on this level, then you’re on the next, then… you get the picture. And there is not spoilers here: Tess is that perfect Divergent. She HAS TO BE the key to opening that box. Otherwise, there would be no third movie, duh. And this is no world in which the third movie doesn’t get made.
What makes it all worth the time is, once again, the cast. Woodley is a decent balance of tough and tender, but being the only actually balanced character in the film does make her the least amusing to watch in this context of, essentially, a cartoon. It is really everyone else that steals the show from right under her doe eyes, playing up their specific caste strengths and weaknesses to maximum effect. Theo James is devoted and square jawed to a flaw. Miles Teller (whom we’d watch in ANYTHING) is hilariously mercurial. Kate Winslet is relentlessly focused. Jai Courtney is 80s teen movie villain kind of villainous. Ansel Elgort is painfully eager to please. Naomi Watts is painfully uneager to please. You get the picture.
These people are a great group to spend some time in a dark room, and you do find yourself giggling and gasping at all the right times (with an added bonus of a very non-YA fantasy style implied sexual relationship between our two lead lovers). Still, it’s an exhausting formula, no matter how well executed and polished it is.