Editor's note: This article is cross-posted at JohnHanlonReviews.com.
The new film Insurgent contains all of the typical ingredients of a dystopian film focused on young adults. There’s the likeable but tough-as-nails hero, the loyal love interest, the sometimes- traitorous ally and a villain— oftentimes the leader of an overpowering government—with little personality. It’s that simple.
The film offers those prototypical characters and a simplistic plot that simply exists to get them from one place to another. Despite those flaws though, the film’s impressive special effects and its exciting third act make this sequel stand out a little bit more than its immediately-forgettable predecessor Divergent.
Divergent (2014)introduced viewers to a Breakfast Club-like futuristic society. Instead of jocks and geeks sitting around a library, there were one-dimensional groups like Candor and Dauntless—which were defined by honesty and bravery, respectively— living together in this new world. Of course, like in the Breakfast Club, the person in charge of this world didn’t like the fact that people could belong to more than one social group.
That meant that Tris (Shailene Woodley), a divergent who fit into multiple social groups, was being hunted by the end of the original film. In this sequel, Tris is still hiding from the dictatorial Jeanine (Kate Winslet), who spends this sequel searching for divergents so she can open a mysterious box that she believes would help keep her in power.
Tris, alongside boyfriend Four (Theo James), rushes from location to location as they contemplate overthrowing Jeanine’s monstrous regime. Along the way, Tris spends time with the peaceful Amity community, the rebellious Factionless crew and the honest Candor group. Unfortunately, there’s little depth found in any of these communities.
Because these factions are defined by one characteristic or another, the characters in them are extremely bland and forgettable.
That leaves the film’s four main protagonists carrying the story. Alongside Tris and Four, there’s Tris’ intellectual brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and the sometimes-traitorous ally Peter (Miles Teller). All four actors have done strong work elsewhere— oftentimes with one another (Woodley appeared as Elgort’s love interest in The Fault in our Stars and Teller’s love interest in The Spectacular Now). Here though, there isn’t enough for them to do to create strong or deep characters.
Whereas in The Hunger Games Katniss’ personality grew throughout her ordeal, here Tris doesn’t seem to do much growing. She is just leaping from one environment to another as she searches for the truth. Woodley is a fine actress but she’s left with little material to build something out of — until the end.
In its final 20 minutes, the main conflict between Jeanine and Tris takes center stage as the two face off against one another. It’s here that director Robert Schwentke offers up some great and audacious special effects, to complement this dystopian world. These final sequences are compelling and hint at what this young adult adaptation could’ve offered. When the final twists unfold, we can see what this plot was leading up to— and it’s an interesting surprise, to be sure— but the intriguing conclusion alone isn’t enough to justify the forgettable 90 minutes that preceded it.
Cinematic adaptations of young adult novels focusing on a dystopian future are nothing new but there are thoughtful films that truly stand out in the crowd (like The Hunger Games series and The Giver) and then there are movies like Insurgent.