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1 review, 3 user ratings

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Divergent Series, The: Insurgent
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Man, Dystopia Just Keeps Getting Lamer"
1 stars

The last few years have seen a glut of big-screen adaptations of YA sagas launched by producers hoping to repeat the massive box-office success of the "Harry Potter" and "Twilight" franchises. Some, like the three "Hunger Games" films to date, have been pretty good but for the most part, they have tended to be low-grade junk that are so similar in all the wrong ways that they seem to have all blended together into one grotesque melange of mortal instruments, maze running and whatever the hell that thing was with Meryl Streep going for the Edgar Winter look and Jeff Bridges acting goofier than usual. One of the worst examples of this sub-genre was last year's "Divergent," an adaptation of the first book of Veronica Roth's best-selling teen dystopia trilogy that offered viewers a grab-bag of elements pilfered outright from other, better sources, a number of normally excellent actresses slumming their way through some of the most embarrassingly dull-witted material imaginable and enough dull spots to stretch what might have been a 90-minute-long running time at most in competent hands to a nearly-incomprehensible 140 minutes.

Despite receiving atrocious reviews, the film was a huge hit and so now, almost exactly one year later, we have "Insurgent," the first of three sequels (the last book in the trilogy is being chopped into two separate movies for reasons that are presumably purely artistic in nature and have nothing to do with milking the property for all that it is worth) and with most of the key behind-the-scenes personnel from the original film having been replaced for this installment, one might have hoped that this edition might have learned from the countless mistakes of its predecessors and presented viewers with something a little more worthy of their time and money--not the most difficult thing to do since simply showing black leader for two hours might have achieved that goal in the eyes of many. Amazingly (and this may be the only time that the word "amazingly" can be legitimately used in regards to the subject at hand), this one is even worse than the first one in the way that it manages to take those flaws as expand on them in new and inexplicable ways while at the same time going through all the narrative wheel-spinning that is part and parcel with being the middle tale of a franchise. Even the devoted fans of the series are likely to find this film to be a waste of time, energy and money.

When we last left the remains of what used to be Chicago, now a fenced-in dystopia that places its citizens into one of five highly specified factions as a way of restoring peace, the evil and power-hungry Jeanine (Kate Winslet), the leader of the hyper-intelligent Erudite faction, had just overthrown the selfless Abnegation faction and seized control of the city with the help of brainwashed members of the brave Dauntless faction. Meanwhile, our heroine, the seemingly ordinary but incredibly powerful and gifted Tris (Shailene Woodley), who is Divergent--the rare type who demonstrate the skills of all the factions instead of just one--and therefore a threat to the system, has escaped the area with her Dauntless boyfriend Four (Theo James) and a few other AWOL Dauntless to hide out in with the Amity faction, an uber-friendly commune presided over by Johanna (Octavia Spencer). While planning her next move--while being constantly reminded of just how truly special and unique she truly is whenever she has even a shred of doubt as to her importance--Tris is still haunted by the ghosts of those she was unable to help save the first time around, such as her parents (including mother Ashley Judd, who gets to put in an ethereal cameo appearance) and the friend that she accidentally killed during the big fracas in the previous film and who also happens to have been the special one of her BFF (Zoe Kravitz), who does not yet know of her honey's fate.

What passes for a plot this time around comes in the form of a mysterious box that Jeanine has uncovered that was being hidden away by Tris's parents and which she is convinced contains a message from the founders of their society that will completely justify both her ruthlessness and the need to track down and destroy all Divergents for the good of the entire population. The only hitch, as it turns out, is that only a Divergent--and a very special and unique one at that--can actually open the thing and receive the message and this forces Jeanine to resort to increasingly brutal measures to round up all Divergents to find the one capable of such a singular and miraculous act. Meanwhile, Tris and Four have landed amongst a large group of factionless people under the leadership of Evelyn (Naomi Watts), who comes equipped with both a shocking revelation and a plan to combine her forces with the remaining Dauntless members to overthrow Jeanine and the Erudites and end the faction system for good. Eventually, Tris voluntarily returns to Jeanine to undergo the five perilous faction-based virtual-reality simulations that she must pass in order to open the box--the caveat is that failure at any of them could cause her real-life demise.

At this point, loyal fans of the series may be wondering if my brain went boom at some point during the "Insurgent" screening since the story depicted on the screen apparently bears only the slightest resemblance to the original book--the box thing that drives much of the narrative, for example, is an invention of screenwriters Brian Duffield, Akiva Goldsman and Mark Bomback. Considering how idiotic the first film, which I believe stuck closer to the original narrative, was, I can understand the temptation to go off on a different path this time around. The only trouble is that what those three have devised as an alternative is just as stupid, if not more so, than what they were given to work with. Take the whole box thing, for example. You would think that if you were going to bring something like that in to hang the majority of the story around, you might take the time to make its presence seem at least reasonably logical within the context of the narrative. Alas, neither the box nor Jeanine's wholly unfounded belief that it will justify her actions--even after learning that only the most super-powerful Divergent can unlock it, she is still under the delusion that it will say to exterminate them all--and after a while, it becomes painfully clear that it has only been inserted into the mix to provide a few bits of spectacle towards the end as Tris goes about her VR simulations.

That might have been at least slightly forgivable if those sequences provided any demonstrable visual flair but the film fails spectacularly in that regard. Some of the ideas are solid--such as the sight of a burning house lifting up into the sky and flying over the burned-out wreckage of post-apocalyptic Chicago--cry out to be brought to life by the likes of a Terry Gilliam or Jean-Pierre Jeunet but have instead been brought to semi-life by Robert Schwentke, the auteur of such cinematic cloddishness as "Flightplan," "RED" and the unspeakably awful "R.I.P.D," in the lumpiest manner imaginable. The guy has basically one visual conceit here--an overhead view of the bombed-out landscape--and just hammers it home over and over without even trying to do anything else. He fumbles the handling of the non-action material as well--the narrative scenes are so boring and devoid of personality that the mind is allowed to wander enough to realize that one could have cut out the near-hour of bloat from the first film, added in the maybe 30 minutes of actual story on display here and presented viewers with one crappy movie instead of two.

That approach probably would not have passed muster with the studio heads, who are clearly hoping to milk this franchise for every penny they can get out of it, but based on the evidence here, you have to think that the actors would not have had any problem with that concept. There are a lot of good actors here (as well as some bad ones--can someone please explain the alleged appeal of Jai Courtney to me sometime?) but they all seem so utterly detached from the material that they are working with that I started concentrating on their eyelids to see if they would start blinking out in Morse code like prisoners of war do when they are forced to appear in propaganda videos. Shailene Woodley's innate charm was about the only thing that "Divergent" had going for it but she isn't even trying here--this is by far the most listless and uninvolved work that I have ever seen her do. The equally talented Kate Winslet is equally off her game as the story's Big Bad--the contradiction of playing a supposedly highly educated woman who nevertheless acts like an idiot at every turn seems to be too much for her and she appears to be mentally counting down the days until she wraps every time she appears on the screen. There is a huge supporting cast as well--both those returning from the first one as well as a number of newcomers--but the only one that gets enough time to stand out is Naomi Watts and all that her presence does is offer viewers the depressing sight of yet another talented actress reduced to doing the kind of crap that barely would have passed muster as a cheapo serial back in the Forties.

What makes the "Divergent" films so infuriating is that they are projects that would seem to have everything going for them--large budgets, talented casts and a built-in audience--and then proceed to squander those assets so thoroughly that you begin to feel like the filmmakers are deliberately trying to tank the property for some unfathomable reason. I have no doubt that its teenage fan base will turn out in droves to see it in its opening weekend, at least enough to ensure that the final two films do go into production. (However, I also suspect that the combination of poor word-of-mouth and dystopian saga fatigue will a huge drop-off in its second weekend.) All I can hope is that instead of merely watching Tris going through her rebellious paces, some moviegoers decide to follow her lead by breaking free of what has been prescribed for them and choose their own path--preferably one leading towards the multiplex auditorium showing "It Follows."

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originally posted: 03/20/15 03:36:44
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User Comments

4/03/15 Man Out Six Bucks Fucking boring shiyte. Watch Lifetime or Sci Fi channel for better flicks 1 stars
3/22/15 Oyvind Brubaker I want to bugger Shailene Woodley 5 stars
3/22/15 Bob Dog Tighter than the first - I loved it and look forward to the third! 5 stars
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  20-Mar-2015 (PG-13)
  DVD: 04-Aug-2015


  DVD: 04-Aug-2015

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