Saturday, 11 April 2015

Movie Review: Insurgent (2015)

With the severe case of sequelitis Hollywood has been suffering from for the last several years, getting to sequels/remakes of films I’ve already reviewed is inevitable. Of course, there’s two sides to that coin and I’ll end up seeing follow-ups to both the good and the bad. This time around, we are very much in the latter with the sequel to what I listed as the worst movie of 2014: Divergent. Now, this is a listing that I question from time to time, considering it beat out utter trash like the Annie remake and God’s Not Dead for that coveted placement, but out of sheer incompetence in creating a world for the story to exist in, I feel it more than deserves that spot. I usually go back to older films for a refresher in cases like this… but screw that noise, let’s just get into this thing already: This is Insurgent.


The plot: After escaping from the events of a hostile takeover by Erudite leader Jeanine (Kate Winslet), Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James), Peter (Miles Teller) and Caleb (Ansel Elgort), along with what is left of Dauntless, find sanctuary in the peace-loving faction of Amity. Jeanine has found a box that holds the key to destroying all Divergents, but she needs a Divergent to open it and it looks like only one will fit the bill: Tris. As Jeanine and her soldiers close in and tensions arise amongst the survivors of the Abnegation massacre, Tris’ conscience eats away at her and she finds herself needing to eliminate the threat of Jeanine once and for all, forging an alliance with the Factionless to create an army capable of fighting the forces of Erudite.

There are a lot of good points going for this movie and probably the best amongst them here is the cast. The entirety of the cast are exceptionally good in their roles, although the clear highlights here are Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller. Shailene does brilliantly as our lead and somehow manages to up the ante from last time when it comes to the more emotional moments and even left me a bit choked up at points with how she played them. Miles, while playing a complete asshole, actually manages to be the best character in the entire film purely out of how much fun his portrayal of this rather dickish person is. The effects work is decent with some rather nice looking glass shattering effects being utilized, even if the green screening looks really dodgy in places and there’s one or two moments of CGI doubling that don’t look all that great either. The action scenes are very well executed, with a refreshingly brutal and kind of bloodthirsty streak to the fight choreography; I want to question how viable such a move was considering the largely teen demographic, but anything to help make the post-apocalyptic setting actually feel as such can only be a plus. Also, and I know that this isn’t something I usually bring up… like, at all, but I honestly really dug the set design here too. From the juxtaposition of the Erudite tower against the crumbling Chicago buildings to the almost Rapture-esque slums of the Factionless, the locales do really well in representing their corresponding factions.

None of that matters, though. No, seriously, anything good that I have to say about this movie is completely moot because of the big black hole of a fault that this film and its predecessor possess: The script; the sole reason that Divergent stands as the worst film I saw in 2014. The entire premise behind the film, that being the faction system built around singular personality traits, had me calling bullshit upon reading up on it beforehand and the film made absolutely zero attempt to get me to buy into any of it. Basically, everyone in this fictional world that is entirely fictional must fit into these two-dimensional character traits and only those traits, or else they must be eliminated. I’ve seen analyses of this film calling it an allegory for high school social cliques, but not only is that a supremely convoluted way of explaining such things if that is the case, it is also so miscalculated that even the film itself seemed to question it. What I’m getting at with all this is that not only does this film carry over all of the hideous illogic of the first film, it somehow manages to double-up on said illogic and create a story that makes even less sense. Let’s start off with the characters, who range from incredibly irritating to unbelievably stupid, often overlapping between the two: Tris now has a severe martyr/guilt complex that gets tired and annoying very quickly with how often its brought up without any kind of satisfying resolution, although it did at least lead to the only real emotional moment of the film with the trial scene but I chalk that up more to Shailene’s acting chops; Four’s thick-headedness only serves to jeopardize the alliance with the Factionless that his character continuously flip-flops on whether he agrees with it or not, often unintentionally; the leader of the Factionless Evelyn (Naomi Watts) is a self-centered and unfeeling cur whose past actions are in no way forgiven or even rightly justified and her classification as one of the good guys is far beyond me; Tris’ brother Caleb is a weenie through and through, proving ineffectual in almost every scene and so filled to the brim with cowardice that he switches sides just to make things easier on himself pretty much; and Jeanine… is a complete and utter moron. The idea of a weapon meant to destroy Divergents only being accessible to Divergents is stupid enough *SPOILERS* but it gets even worse when we, of course, discover that that isn’t even what it does, meaning that the entire point behind the plot was all a part of Jeanine’s seriously warped perception of reality. It doesn’t help that she doesn’t seem to know thing one about what irony is, in quite possibly one of the most hilariously aggravating exchanges of the last few years. The only character that I actually gave a damn about here was Peter but that’s only because of how of an over-the-top douche he was to everyone, and even then his face-heel-face turn only served to confuse when all is said and done.

Beyond just the badly thought-out characters, the plot is a complete mess as well. Time and time again, the dialogue keeps bringing up more plot holes surrounding the faction system and the world that is built around it, constantly bringing every single event that is shown on-screen into question and never once giving any form of legitimacy to any of it. Hell, whenever something slips and a character does bring up a fault with the setting, it’s something arbitrary and not even a genuine issue with the ideas presented. What makes this even worse is the paradigm-shifting ending *SPOILERS* revealing the faction system as one large experiment set up by an outside source that is designed to “recover the humanity that we lost”. Ignoring the fact that this is essentially the same ending as The Maze Runner from last year (A film series called Divergent that is derivative of its contemporaries; now that’s irony), this somehow manages to raise even more question surrounding the setting, not the least of which being how the hell such an experiment was meant to work in the first place and how anything that transpires within said experiment would prove anything. Not only that, despite this series still having a two-parter to close out the story, the ending we’re shown is so weirdly ultimate that I cannot imagine how the hell this is supposed to continue beyond this. Not that it should continue anyway, considering how the first two installments have turned out. A look at the crew behind this film shows Akiva Goldsman, the man responsible for last year’s runner up in complete cinematic idiocy Winter’s Tale, as a co-writer; he must smelled the lack of sense coming off of Divergent’s script and decided that he had to be a part of it and try to make the next film even worse.


All in all, this is very much the same as the original, only with more annoying characters and amplified idiocy on the part of the script in both dialogue and general world-building, resulting in a film that is somehow even worse than the first one. Sure, the production values are pretty damn good and should by all rights rank this as one of the better YA adaptation series of late, but the writing is just that horrible that it pretty much negates whatever good points the film may have as a whole. Looks like Jai Courtney can add another notch to his bedpost, provided that it hasn’t just broken off already by this point. This is worse than Fifty Shades Of Grey, since that at least had a truly great soundtrack that could be salvaged from the wreckage whereas this isn’t so lucky. However, this still isn’t as bad as The Wedding Ringer. While The Wedding Ringer legitimately pissed me off, my contempt for this franchise from last year has been tempered to charmed bemusement; it’s like picking on a five-year-old who doesn’t know any better, it’s more cute than anything else. In fact, this film managed to outdo the original in so many incompetent ways that I’m actually morbidly curious about where the series goes from here and if it can somehow dig itself into an even deeper hole than it already has. Maybe if you are capable of overlooking story and setting issues, you might be able to enjoy this on the quality of the rest of the production, but otherwise give this one a wide berth until it comes out on home media; this is yet another perfect piece of riff fodder.

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