'Insurgent' film review: Dull & careless are kind ways to describe this YA slog
There are worse and more cloying young adult film adaptations out there, but "Insurgent" (opening in theaters nationwide March 20) sets a new disappointing baseline for lazy YA movies.
In short: Fugitives Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) are on the run from powerful faction leader Jeanine (Kate Winslet), who plots to take over the entire faction society and destroy the Divergents. (Watch the trailer)
Even writing the aforementioned plot summary is difficult -- because "Insurgent" is barely a story of any sort. The characters start out at some arbitrary point after the first movie - and they just wander around dystopian Chicago, bumping into an assortment of other underdeveloped characters. The filmmakers think this passes as something that sorta/kinda resembles a plot. This potentially exciting film is set within a totalitarian dystopia on the brink of all-out war -- and yet, "Insurgent" is ultimately about opening a box. Sadly, that flippant summation is more accurate than sarcastic.
"Insurgent" is a master course in confusing dramatic stakes. The protagonists waste half the movie not even knowing about the box -- leaving them to blindly wander around and impotent to develop any sort of narrative. While the heroes bumble around Chicago, the antagonists have a clear objective ("open the box") without a clear story goal ... because they do not know what is inside the box. It is impossible to care about the story or characters when the central driving plot device is, even by MacGuffin standards, so frustratingly vague.
An odd, unnecessarily convoluted story would have been forgivable if only the characters were treated with any sort of respect -- but that is not the case here. This dull YA mess totally neglects its "characters," treating them merely as convenient pawns that force this half-assed plot-driven mess towards its clunky third act. Characters randomly appear on-screen only when needed -- one literally falls out of the sky at the just the right moment -- and these disposable characters disappear just as quickly when they've filled their minimal obligation.
When Four finally reveals his name -- a reveal that, by the character's reaction, is supposed to be shocking -- it fails to land with any real emotional impact and his name only matters because of Four's family history. The leader of the Factionless (Naomi Watts) is also revealed -- and she lazily describes herself as "the lesser of two evils," yet "Insurgent" makes no effort to display how she is "evil" or worthy of Four's pure hate and distrust. A whole scene of exposition -- that clearly explains how implanted neurological devices are not surgically removable -- is utterly wasted and totally undermined by the off-screen, sudden & conveniently timed discovery of a way to remove the irremovable implants.
Miles Teller offers the movie's only entertaining and intriguing moments. He is perfect as the completely selfish, two-faced fugitive fully capable of sacrificing everyone around him to save himself. He's also the only character who has a clear character arch -- something that no other character in "Insurgent" enjoys.
Final verdict: The "Divergent" sequel borderline doesn't make sense. To call this a "story" is an insult to all other narratives that burn the minimal amount of calories establishing a conflict, ramping up the stakes and developing their characters.
"The Divergent Series: Insurgent" opens in theaters March 20 and is rated PG-13 for intense violence and action throughout, some sensuality, thematic elements and brief language.