The advantage of seeing outstanding actors in a middling film is that you can appreciate just how good they are on a whole new level. And INSURGENT is certainly a middling film, though that is an improvement on the last installment in this franchise, DIVERGENT. With a new director, Robert Schwentke, bringing Veronica Roth’s YA novel to the screen, and less future dystopian, world-building to be done here, it’s a crisper film, with action taking the lead over exposition. It also, as is the case of late with sequels, drops us into the storyline with little backstory to guide us. Things like the neo-feudal social system of the five factions, Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, and Erudite, are things you will have to pick up as we go along.
It is only a few days since the events of DIVERGENT, with Dauntless members Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James), Peter (Miles Teller)
and Tris’ Erudite brother, Caleb (Ansel Elgort) framed by the evil Janine (Kate Winslet) for the massacre of Abegnation, Tris’ natal faction. Shelter with the hippy commune that is Amity is drawing to a close thanks to the repeated outbursts from the Dauntless refugees, and the appearance of Janine’s militia on the Amity farm. The refugees seek shelter with first Candor, and then the factionless mob, led by Four’s estranged mother (Naomi Watts), as they plan their next move to overthrow Janine, clear their names, and restore order to the last civilized place on earth. Oh, and discover the secret to that box for which Tris’ parents (Ashley Judd, Tony Goldwyn) were willing to die.
Sims, a simulated reality that exists only in a subject’s mind, are in the forefront of that struggle, and nightmares plague Tris, as she contends with her own self-doubt, guilt, and certainty that anyone she loves, or even gets close to, will meet a bad end. Woodley is an actress who can combine those qualities with a brittle determination to succeed that makes her warrior-princess interludes more compelling than they might otherwise be. There is glee mixed with the relief when Tris successfully grapples with a burning house floating above the ruins of Chicago, and a foolish nobility to her decision to
There are nifty special effects, elegantly executed that enhance the story, and a nice evocation of Tris’ own muddled state of mind about which reality she is experiencing that adds a tart sleight-of-hand to the story. The story itself is a direct translation of its young adult roots, with lessons writ large and expected tropes trotted forth at the expected times and with the expected results. Though the way different characters interpret what would seem to be virtues, twisting them into something less than noble, but still rhetorically valid, has its own fascination.make a sacrifice that may do no good or might save them all. On the other side of that equation is Teller, whose effortless arrogance as Peter is a tonic to the earnest tone of the film, as is Octavia Spencer’s idealism unsullied by naiveté as the leader of the Amity faction.
INSURGENT keeps its franchise going, which was its job. Too bad it couldn’t conjure up more of a sense of urgency and genuine peril than of merely going through a standard set of tropes leading up to that inevitable final showdown coming in then next two installments.