With last year’s Divergent failing to impress, it was up to this second round to prove what the series is made of. The answer; not much of anything. The Divergent Series: Insurgent spends its runtime rehashing elements from the first movie and drowning itself in gallons of exposition. What this series needs is a point to all of it’s bombast and teen angst, but as of this sequel that point still has yet to be found.
The Divergent Series: Insurgent is a feature length exercise in narrative wheel spinning. It is a fairly common phenomenon for multi-film series to have establishing episodes. Typically the sophomore entry fills this role, biding time, setting the pieces up for what is to come in the bird (and most likely final) entry. The Divergent Series, however, is taking this tactic to new heights. Last year’s originating Divergent more or less filled the establishing purpose, setting up characters and world, only providing a small semblance of payoff but promising bigger things to come. While I personally thought little of the first Divergent I was still willing to give it the chance to bloom into something in the follow-up now that the foundation had been established. Unfortunately, Insurgent does not make good on this potential, instead opting to bide even more time rearranging the pieces set up in Divergent while still promising that better, more exciting things are still to come. At this point, I remain doubtful.
As it’s own experience, Insurgent does improve upon it’s predecessor, mostly thanks to director Robert Schwentke’s sharper sensibilities, easily showing up Divergent director Neil Burger’s limp effort on the first movie. But the improved direction only serves to highlight this series central, crippling problem: it has no good reason to exist in the first place. We’re two movies, over four hours, into this series and it has yet to produce a single legitimately compelling and/or original concept that distinguishes it from it’s peers. Insurgent not only liberally borrows from The Hunger Games (a series not even known for it’s originality in the first place) as the first film did, but adds Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows to the selection of young adult fiction it mimics, never managing to build upon or improve the ideas is copies. Everything it does has been done better, and in the case of ‘The Hunger Games’, is currently being done better. Divergent is rather like Hunger Games but with all sense of inspiration, social commentary or engaged plotting getting sucked out of it. It has nothing of substance or insight to say, and thus has really no where to go. It satisfies itself by aimlessly running through tired tropes but has not yet found a larger purpose for this tropes to serve and support.
Schwentke’s directorial panache makes this film slicker, sharper and more fully realized than Divergent, but he can’t overcome the stench of the lifeless, and occasionally embarrassing screenplay. Try though he might, his aesthetic gloss can’t fix what is fundamentally rotten, the end result is comparable to using a $300 bottle of barbecue sauce to garnish a stale McDouble. The cast is as game as they were in the first movie, which is a considerable saving grace, Miles Teller in particular brings a sense of life to the incredibly mundane screenplay. The first movie’s tacky production design is also graciously fazed out in favor of a style that’s not a total eyesore. But these positive elements don’t ultimately mean much when they’re not in service of a story with substance. And Insurgent never fully manages to rise above the rote first entry and make good on what little story potential it’s world afforded it.
At the end of the day The Divergent Series is proving to be little more than a tofu burger edition of The Hunger Games. Teasing the audience for two full movies all the while fervently making empty promises of payoff/purpose, slowly dragging its bloated, unwieldy, exposition-heavy body toward what is ostensibly a point to this whole ordeal. At this rate, I can only assume next year’s The Divergent Series: Allegiant, Part I will just be 2+ hours of Shailene Woodley sitting around twiddling her thumbs and/or crying. Not sure why – no doubt it’ll rake in the cash.