Guns of the Insurgency
A Film Review of Insurgent
The first thought that came to mind when the end credits rolled on Insurgent was how similarly it improved on its predecessor in the exact same manner as Catching Fire (2013) did for The Hunger Games (2012). Of course, these two stories are eerily similar in so many ways that it doesn’t take a board member of Mensa to realize that Veronica Roth had more than just an “inspiration” in mind for her own brainchild seeing how Suzanne Collins wrapped up her book trilogy a full year before Divergent was released in 2011. I am certain their respective literatures divulge more than enough differentiating detail about the worlds and characters these stories are about to make it worth any reader’s while to devour every page. But you just don’t get that kind of flavor in a series of two hour movies. You get the bare bones of the world, some expository jargon; make a b-line for character which finally launches you right into the drama and action. Taken in this regard, the similarities of these film franchises start converging like every loony in Gotham gravitates to Batman.
I’d be willing to bet that, “A pretty young white girl compelled to engage in mortal combat to make some difference in a dystopian society that will implode unless her efforts inspire a revolution towards positive change” was used to pitch both trilogies (parts 1 and 2 for their respective final installments, of course). So what? Who cares, right? Meathead, bro-action blockbusters are all remixes of themselves, too! Die Hards and Under Sieges involve one man killing machines that grind up armies of opposition into kibble to save the day. Why not let the girls have their shot at it? I have absolutely no criticism of any of this save for one, and it’s the reason why Under Siege (1992) will always be described as Die Hard (1988) … on a boat. One of these films came first, caught some kind of lightning in a bottle and every other that follows in an attempt to recreate the formula of the progenitor will always be compared as its doppleganger until it is ultimately forgotten when another copycat steps up to the plate.
Long story short (too late); as entertained as I was by Insurgent, as improved as the visual effects were thanks to an additional $25 million to the budget of Divergent, and as talented as I am sure that Shailene Woodley will prove herself to be when she’s in her prime, this film and this series is old hat: been there, done that. Perhaps if there were more separation in real time between the releases of the Hunger Games and Divergent sagas, I’d be less susceptible to monotony fatigue. Lionsgate’s desire to have them run concurrently is curious. Yes, it makes sense to continue to capitalize on the popularity and success of The Hunger Games films by keeping its target audience primed for another run to the cinema for a similar, girl-powered, butt-kicking adventure. However, attempting to take advantage of the audience through this kind of acute, formulaic regurgitation is a dangerous game that can easily turn Insurgent’s opening weekend feast of $52.3 million into a second week famine in an instant. Even if Hunger Games and Divergent have several core concepts and characters that are closely related, it’s on Lionsgate and more specifically screenwriters Brian Duffield, Akiva Goldsman and Mark Bomback to make enough difference to motivate an audience to buy a ticket. There are too many paralleling plots and coincidental twists with the franchise that came before for Insurgent’s story to be a standalone draw for this movie.
Insurgent isn’t a bad film by any means and the primary reason for this is money, as in added money to the budget which shows improvements in so many ways. Set design gets an upgrade, external locations are vast and intricate, stunts and combat are more intense, and props actually look like they belong in this futuristic world, guns look much beefier than the piddling blow darts they used in Divergent. All of these elements translate directly into added entertainment value to the viewer, but as good as they all are, they pale in comparison to the huge upgrade in the visual effects department that is showcased during Tris’ faction simulation unlocking scenes. These surreal dream sequences push her divergence to the limit as her ability to overcome her fears amidst the challenges that each faction represent is loaded with all sorts of eye candy like floating buildings, obliterating walls with bare hands and disintegrating particle effects. From top to bottom, Insurgent is a much prettier and visually dynamic film than Divergent.
Performances by the main characters were solid. Shailene Woodley and Theo James have good chemistry together as Tris and Four, respectively, although I wouldn’t mind seeing them steam things up a lot more as passionate lovers than the good friends who happen to sleep with each other they come off as in this film. As individuals, Woodley succeeds in manipulating her vulnerability to dominate every scene when Tris is at her weakest. She needs a bit of improvement on showing her anger and rage as well as her fight choreography which is nowhere near as intensely staccato as Four, the love interest. Theo James is certainly a man’s man in addition to being the lady’s man because he demonstrates textbook intensity and strength at all times, even at restful times, when he needs to let that iron jaw of his kick back and take a rest. Kate Winslet as intelligence Nazi Jeanine reprises her role as the ice queen proficiently. I wish her villainy was allowed greater depth of depravity, but her character’s machinelike callousness represents the apex of her negative energy.
The rest of the cast is inconsistent at best. Jai Courtney delights once again as precocious, dickhead Eric while Mekhi Phifer’s Max is simply fortunate to be present to recite his lines to the camera. Miles Teller’s Peter is reliably untrustworthy and self-serving and shows the potential for being a much more capable villain than Jeanine at times. Ansel Elgort’s Caleb isn’t afforded much screen time to evolve his character and thankfully so because his casual demeanor at all times was as unimpressive as his one facial expression of nonchalance throughout. Octavia Spencer’s Johanna was a nice surprise to see a veteran showing how one “does more with less,” but it was in fact so little that it seemed like a complete misuse of her talent. Naomi Watts was in this film? My favorite moment of Insurgent was seeing Daniel Dae Kim as Jack King who is cool, calm, collected and in command of Candor faction with the charisma he learned to channel from Lost.
Insurgent is a fully capable and worthy follow up to Divergent for all the fanboys and girls. Casual viewers will continue to draw the parallels with The Hunger Games because the fictions are too similar, plain and simple. So far, global ticket sales are showing immunity (or apathy) to the elephant in the room and ultimately, that’s the only thing that really matters. As a pre-summer blockbuster, this film doesn’t have the same competition or expectations of the big boys like the next Fast and Furious or Avengers, but even Divergent saw more than a 50% drop in ticket sales in its second week domestically, and I would expect the same here. Don’t even think about wasting your money for IMAX or Real 3D screenings of this film as the conversion adds zero emersion to the experience and is a shameless cash grab. As for a recommendation for purchasing a general admission, I would suggest saving for multiple screenings for the true blockbusters that are just around the corner. Insurgent is good enough to satisfy that itch if you haven’t been to the movies in a while, but if you don’t feel the need, this can easily be pushed to Netflix.