Monday, March 30, 2015

The Divergent Series: Insurgent

by Melissa Scott

For the most part, I've had my fill of the YA dystopian genre. I enjoyed it while it lasted. The Hunger Games provided a riveting “take down the government” sentiment, and the idea of a female heroine rising as savior and leader for all--coupled with gorgeous, love struck men. But that fever dwindled. When Insurgent was announced, familiarity drove my desire to see it.

I admit that Divergent surprised me; I enjoyed the story-line and found myself impressed by Shailene Woodley’s acting, especially in her first major role. Theo James proved he could act just as stunningly as he looks, and the supporting actors (Ansel Elgort and Miles Teller) worked well with Woodley. So I thought I’d at least pay tribute to the first movie’s decent showing, and give the second a fair chance. And while Insurgent once again exceeded my expectations, it was a clear step down from Divergent, and secured my indifference for the YA dystopian film.

Returning to a post-apocalyptic and rundown Chicago, Tris (Woodley), her boyfriend Four (James), her brother Caleb (Elgort), and on-again-off-again friend Peter (Teller) crash into the scene as fugitives on the run. Insurgent picks up right where Divergent left off: society’s divided into five factions (Erudite, Abnegation, Candor, Amity, and Dauntless), each representing the main virtue and value of its name. Cold and calculating, Jeanine, (Kate Winslet) reaffirmed as the factions’ leader, meets any conflict or threat to her perfectly divided system swiftly (usually death by gunfire, a recurring note of violence throughout the film). As the classic YA dystopian heroine, Tris fully embodies this threat as a Divergent—one who fits into more than one of the five factions, and thus is uninfluenced by the various serums Jeanine’s government used to control the factions.

Now, Jeanine hopes to open a mysterious box, which holds the “secret message” for society. Developed as a time capsule from the ancient faction leaders, Jeanine believes the message will confirm the evils of Divergents, and publicly condemn them. The only problem is that Jeanine needs a Divergent to open the box—and not just any Divergent. She needs one who can pass five simulation tests, one from each faction. I’ll give you three guesses who it is. (of course it’s Tris)

The rest of the movie is fairly, I mean entirely, predictable—but satisfyingly flashy and grandiose. Caleb and Peter betray Tris and Four and join up with Jeanine (they did this is the first movie, so—yeah, predictable). After a few intense flare ups between Four and his dad, and then Four and his mom (because what else would shout “young adult” without some parental conflict and disappointment), Tris and Four hideout with other fugitives, jumping from faction to faction. They work to form a plan and build up an army for a revolution against Jeanine. Meanwhile, Jeanine forces Tris to turn herself in, after killing Tris’s friends and threatening to continue the tirade. Tris undergoes the trying simulations of the box, obviously succeeds with remarkable courage and selflessness through all of them (she is the chosen one, after all), and eventually manages to open it. Despite Jeannine’s expectations, the box’s message applauds Divergents, naming them essential to the fabric of society, and urges all to venture forth “outside the walls” to a new era. That’s how Insurgent ends—literally a mass exodus of the factions running toward the outer borders of Chicago. Hurrah for the YA dystopia.

The plot of Insurgent was painfully dull, but at least the movie’s budget salvaged the audience’s attention. According to Forbes.com, about eighty-five million dollars were spent on the film, and it’s clear the money wasn't wasted. In addition to impressive and well-choreographed fight scenes, rescues, escapes, and surrenders, the movie excels in virtual reality features. Much of the movie transpires through Tris’s simulation--the post-traumatic dreams she suffers. While Time’s review deems the graphics excessive, I think they are just the right level of extreme. With a generic and frankly un-creative plot, Insurgent needed the extra bangs and whistles. Placing it second to Inception in virtual spectacle, the clashes and clatters through one virtual plane to the next made Insurgent memorable—when it otherwise would have barely scraped mediocre. 

The script was cringe-worthy (Four actually compliments Tris at the end with an embarrassing “You did it!”). But the acting helped to balance the disappointment; Woodley was strong and defiant. Her vehement cutting of her hair into a rebel pixie style could have been cheesy and laughable, but she generated respect and upheld the fiery and almost callous personality needed for a dystopian heroine. Both Elgort and Teller deliver appreciable humor. While James disappointingly shrinks from his place in Divergent as the misunderstood yet exceptional warrior, to smitten protector of Tris in Insurgent, he nevertheless seizes attention whenever he docks the scene.

Insurgent holds its own fairly well, but there’s no getting around the chronic dystopian novel/film boundaries. The special effects and acting are superb, but only manage to pull the movie out from its self-digging hole of monotony. If you want to sit back for two hours and enjoy some well-enhanced graphics, I’d recommend it—but don’t expect much more than that.
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