Last year’s Divergent falls somewhere in the middle of the recent onslaught of young adult novel adaptations. Similar feelings rang true while watching the second installment — Insurgent. Neither are as bad as the Twilight films, but never as good as The Hunger Games. Veronica Roth should be mildly pleased seeing her books make their way to the big screen, since neither of the films are horrible. Faint praise, sure, but this series could have been way worse. Switching directors — from Neil Burger to Robert Schwentke — definitely helps, not to mention the luxury of a shorter runtime. Unfortunately, Insurgent still doesn’t make for great cinema.
Picking up days after Divergent ends, Insurgent brings us up to speed with Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James), Peter (Miles Teller), and Tris’s brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort), on the run with Eric (Jai Courtney) hot on their tails. Taking refuge at the Amity commune, run by Johanna (Octavia Spencer), emotions run high with Tris and Peter at each others’ throats. Soon enough, Eric comes calling on orders from Jeanine (Kate Winslet) to bring Tris in after finding a mysterious box that contains a message from the elders that only a Divergent can open. There are also subplots involving truth serums, shifting alliances, and enough CGI to keep the most hardened fan happy.
Anyone going into Insurgent simply expecting more of the same will find themselves relieved that the scope has been widened. With a bigger budget and a better writing team in Brian Duffield, Akiva Goldsman, and Mark Bomback, Insurgent is a marked improvement over Divergent. The added use of 3D also makes the action more lively. But the best thing going for it is the switch in directors. Schwentke creates a more fully developed dystopian aspect than Burger did, and has a much better eye for action. Burger kept us in the dark most of the time — literally. Here we’re treated to most of the action taking place during the day or in brightly lit areas. A table fight between Tris and Peter made me hope for some brutal one-on-one combat, but the closest we get is a tussle between Tris and herself during a simulation exercise.
The effects have been kicked up a notch between films, unsurprising seeing how Divergent brought in enough money to warrant the series continuing. And the story has been stripped down from what I’ve read on the books’ Wikipedia page — something that never hurts (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban anyone?). Where Divergent ran over two hours, Insurgent keeps things moving at a quick pace, and leaving the histrionics behind. Tris is a stronger character this time, allowing Woodley to do much more than just mope around or cry in every other scene. That’s something they save for one of the more heartbreaking scenes involving the truth serum.
If there’s one thing in favor of Insurgent, is its lack of competition. While never being a great film, at least it’s in no way a horrible film. Sometimes a good diversion is all we need and on that front, it definitely delivers. My only real complaint is with the film’s resolution. I know there are two more films on the horizon with the final book — Allegiant — unnecessarily broken into two parts. They could have easily ended the series with Insurgent and audiences who haven’t read the books would be none the wiser that there is whole third act. Insurgent literally ties up that many loose ends.
As it stands, Insurgent shows the series only getting stronger, and who knows, maybe they’ll pull out all the stops with Allegiance. Until then, this is a good enough diversion until summer gets into full swing.