I was a big fan of Divergent (review here), which seemed to do a lot of things that franchises like The Hunger Games failed to do. So I was curious how the second installment would improve upon the first. Or would it?
Imagine a world where people are placed into a caste system and each caste is expected to play its role in society. Every once in a while, someone defies these rules and doesn’t fit into a caste. These people are called “divergents.” The government knows the danger that this can cause, so this movie is really focusing on Kate Winslet as the villain, hunting down and trying to find these rebel divergents. Our main heroine is Tris (Shailene Woodley) and her partner Four (Theo James). Tris also has a brother (Ansel Elgort) and unlikely ally Peter (Miles Teller).
What I loved about Divergent was that it was able to tell a really simple story but it was still engrossing. Most of the movie took place in one location and gave us time to get to know those characters. Some folks though got the short end of the stick and luckily they got more time to shine in this second outing. Specifically, I thought Miles Teller had more to do this time, really showing off what makes him such a jerk. Also Kate Winslet had quite a few more scenes this time around and had some more to do.
What doesn’t work?
Okay. Insurgent is clearly not as good as Divergent. It’s not a bad movie, but it’s not the surprise that the first film was.
I mentioned that Miles Teller and Kate Winslet got a little more to do in this film. Almost everyone else got less to do somehow. We were introduced to a whole batch of new characters, including Daniel Dae Kim (Lost) and Octavia Spencer (The Help). These characters had a few scenes but were really superficial. Established characters from the first film, like Mekhi Phifer, Maggie Q, and Ray Stevenson, had only a few lines each.
So why is that? What happened to lessen the amount of time we spent with these characters?
This story is nonstop. And not in the good way, like a great action movie should be. It’s nonstop meaning that the whole movie is “We have to go here!” and then they get there, and then suddenly “And now we need to go here!” There was so much plot and story to cover, that they dragged all these characters along without giving us those little moments that we had in Divergent to actually care about them. Even between Tris and Four, our two heroes, we only had a few scenes that they actually seemed to care about each other. Everything was just happening so fast the whole time, that our characters got sidelined.
So let’s look at the story then. Since there was so much story to get through, was it done well at least? No. They didn’t explain hardly any decisions. Tris’ brother (Ansel Elgort) makes a few decisions through the movie that had me scratching my head. They left out motivations and explanations that the book likely made sure to cover. So even though so much is happening, you’re not always clear why or how.
Insurgent somehow backpedals on what made the first movie so successful. There was so much story to cover that it left out those character moments that reminded us of why we liked these characters. The action was great but the connections between action scenes were sometimes missing, so we didn’t always know why or how things were happening. Book readers might have an easier time following along, but as an outsider, I felt lost on quite a few occasions. There were great performances, most notably from the villain Kate Winslet and some extra screentime for Miles Teller.