Title: The Insurgent
Director: Robert Schwentke
Major Players: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Miles Teller
Out Of Five: 2.5
Overkill can be lethal for a film. Take the press screening I attended for The Insurgent, the second in the Divergent series. It was at the Waterloo IMAX, which seats nearly 500 and its 20ft high screen is the biggest in Britain. About 40 of us hacks turned up, all sat in the back five rows and, unsurprisingly, there was next to no atmosphere. Given that only a select number of movie press would’ve gone to the premiere, it wasn’t a turnout that inspired confidence.
But Divergent is a Y A franchise that’s made serious money – which is why we’re getting a second slice. In a dystopian Chicago where society is divided into factions according to personality traits, Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) is Divergent, which makes her an outcast. She’s hiding out with the Amity community but, with the ruthless Jeanine (Kate Winslet) and her Erudite faction on her trail, peace is short lived. War between the various groups is brewing and Tris finds herself having to complete a series of challenges to unlock the secrets of the past – and find out what the future holds for the whole community.
Does that all sound familiar? If it doesn’t, the film certainly looks it. It can’t be a coincidence that this week also sees the DVD release of The Hunger Games:Mockingjay Part 1. And it’s certainly no coincidence that the two films are so similar – a young female protagonist becomes the key player in a post-apocalyptic setting where the masses rebel to overthrow a dictator. See what I mean?
I’m not going to bang on about all the similarities between the two, because the list would be endless. Essentially, I’d seen it all before, got the T-shirt and worn the skin-tight trousers. OK, so I’m exaggerating about the trousers …. The point is that the films are near mirror images of each other, but it’s the Divergent series that’s the copy cat. And it’s very much the inferior. Perhaps Derivative would be a better title.
Aside from that, the film is riddled with irritating and distracting incongruities. Like Tris’s wardrobe. This is a girl who travels with no luggage yet manages to find different clothes to sleep in and a complete change of duds every day. They come from nowhere and they all fit perfectly. She’s also a dab hand as a hairdresser, cutting her own hair, expertly highlighting it, the lot! Or there’s Kate Winslet’s shoes, with such stick thin stilettoes that we hardly ever see her move more than one step. And when she does, she totters. Not a good look for a dictator.
Seemingly impossible obstacles are overcome in the blink of an eye – and, worse still, without any explanation. Tris’s allies are all shot, not with bullets but with devices that send them to sleep. They have the added benefit of allowing the Erudite faction to control them and turn out to be a miniature version of the Alien: it’s explained in great detail that they wind themselves round an artery so they can’t be removed. Then, out of the blue, somebody solves the problem and extracts one. How? “They just did.” Oh, well, that’s OK then. We didn’t want to know anyway.
Visually, the film is totally in love with aerial shots, the bigger and more sweeping the better. On an IMAX screen, they make you feel ever so slightly giddy – until you get used to them. Because cinematographer Florian Ballhaus uses them just a bit too much and, while they look great to start with, they soon become repetitive to the point of tiresome. There’s plenty of special effects as well, mainly in Tris’s simulation sessions which involve lot of jumping from building to building. But again, they soon become much of a muchness and I even found myself looking at my watch. There was another half an hour to go.
The film has a quality cast but, in the main, they’re under-used. Some of them, like Octavia Spencer and Naomi Watts, are leaders of their faction and all they have to do is exemplify that particular characteristic. Thank goodness, then, for Miles Teller, who gives the whole proceedings a much needed lift as the wise-cracking, smart-ass Peter – one minute a traitor, another a hero. He steals every scene he’s in but, sadly, he’s not in enough of them.
Now we all know that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. In this case, though, the Divergent series is doing nothing more than riding on the back of The Hunger Games. The fact that The Insurgent is such a pale imitation is no compliment. Yet, even though the film comes to a very finite end, two more instalments are already lined up. They can only be better.
The Insurgent is currently on general release.