The Divergent sequel feels like the umpteenth instalment in a YA future dystopia onslaught.
There's a bandwagon riding around Hollywood at the moment, built on books of the young-adult sci-fi dystopia variety. Yes, contemplating teens in trouble in futuristic times is the current trend du jour, one that Insurgent happily mines.
The second film based on the popular novels by Veronica Roth, Insurgent picks up where Divergent left off. As a refresher for those with short memories, the time is 200 years from now, and the place is a walled-in, post-apocalyptic Chicago. Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) scandalised the factionalised society by daring not to conform to type. Everyone is supposed to fall into one of five categories, but her personality just wouldn’t fit, branding her divergent.
After attempting to hide her true nature, incurring the wrath of power-hungry wannabe leader Jeanine (Kate Winslet), romancing the sullen Four (Theo James) and threatening to expose a few frightening home truths, Tris is now an enemy of the state — but running can only get her and her pals so far. As Jeanine’s tactics of control over the populace become more violent, rebellion and confrontation becomes Tris’s only option
Sound familiar? Of course it does, because you’ve seen this before. Not just in the first film, but in the growing pile exactly like it — The Hunger Games, The Giver and The Maze Runner, just to name a few. Disaffected youth, shady dealings, unscrupulous adults, hidden agendas and the pursuit of the bigger picture: it’s a checklist they all stick to, ticking off items one by one. Slight details change; however, for the most part, everything follows the formula.
That feeling, not of deja vu or of second chapter-itis, but of seeing too much of the same thing over and over again, just can’t be shaken in Insurgent, not that director Robert Schwentke (RIPD) seems to be trying too hard. With a moody electronic score reminiscent of Tron: Legacy and bleak visuals of running, scowling and fighting that could be taken from any film, the filmmaker’s vision of events paints by the numbers as much as the material it is based on (a few dream sequences aside).
Instead, it is left to the high-profile cast to spice things up. Seeing strong female roles on screen is always welcome, but Woodley’s fired-up heroine and Winslet’s cold villain aren’t given too much new to do but frown and argue. Octavia Spencer flits in and out, woefully underused. Though Naomi Watts joins the ensemble, she’s really just setting up the drama for the two films still to come.
It’s actually Miles Teller, fresh from Whiplash and made to play a snarky comic foil, who adds some character to the blandness. He’s clearly the only actor having fun, with no one else looking remotely like they want to be in the movie. That's the problem with bandwagons — the more people jump on them, the more others just want to fall right off. That’s the problem with Insurgent, too, as it just keeps circling around the same old teen dystopian block.