After the previous instalment favoured seemingly endless set-up in favour of actual events and progress, does “Insurgent”, the sequel, start to deliver on all those promises? Well, it’s available in 3D this time out which is handy given the previous instalment struggled to be two dimensional at times. There’s no denying the end product is a little more polished this time, but it’s hardly a surprise that incoming director Robert Schwentke was given a more generous budget to play with following the success of “Divergent”. Unfortunately there’s just no escaping the fundamental problem that the source material is bland, derivative and riddled with lazy storytelling and contrived or arbitrary plot developments.
The story picks up three days after the end of “Divergent”, with Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James), Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and Peter (Miles Teller) hiding out in the Amity farming community following the thwarting of Jeanine’s plan. However, when the remains of Dauntless still loyal to Jeanine come looking for them, they’re forced to flee back into the city. Meanwhile (three days remember), Jeanine (Kate Winslet) has discovered an ancient high tech artefact that can only be opened by a Divergent and sets out to capture every single one of them in order to get at the secrets inside.
There’s a needlessly vicious edge to the violence in this film, used mainly to break up the otherwise endless scenes of people moping. The film’s careful to avoid actually showing you any of the brutal execution style killings, albeit through clumsy cutaways or sudden shifts in the camera’s angle but the outcome is clear. The rest of the sporadic action is confined largely to various simulations which, while they look spectacular, count for nothing because you’re aware they’re a simulation and so there’s little actual risk to the characters.
Shailene Woodley does better, though, as Tris and while the character as written does little to help, she brings a much needed sense of depth and humanity despite the nonsensical decisions the script has her make. Theo James, likewise, seems to have settled into the action hero role a little more this time, but like Tris his character isn’t given much to do except brood and occasionally battle. Alongside the returning cast, the sequel increases the wattage of the star power on show but still has little for the likes of Octavia Spencer, Daniel Dae Kim or Naomi Watts to actually do. Winslet’s villain is arguably more wasted here than before and apart from her out of nowhere obsession with the sparkly artefact spends most of the movie looking like a Keith Lemon groupie thanks to her conspicuously bandaged hand – because Tris put a knife through it last time they met, remember? Or care? It’s not all about wasting the talents of great actors, though, Jai Courtney’s still there too.
It’s the introduction of a MacGuffin like the divergent-only puzzle box that’s the most galling development in a film littered with non-sequiturs and inconsistencies. Rather than building and enhancing on the first film’s themes, “Insurgent” doubles down on the stupidest aspects of its post-apocalyptic society and then confirms that the whole faction thing is not only unnatural but undesirable too. Worst of all, though, is by the time the final, totally-not-predictable-twist is revealed, you learn you’ve spent over four dull hours only to find out you’ve been watching a lightweight rip off of “The Maze Runner”. I suppose it’s still possible the already announced (and tediously inevitable two part) finale “Allegiant” may have something genuinely original up its sleeve which could still salvage something from this unconvincing and inept saga but at this point it’s going to take a miracle.