Movies

Mattywood
Insurgent
Theo James and Shailene Woodley
Photo: Summit

Insurgent
Directed by Robert Schwentke
Rated PG-13
Released 20 March 2015

Anything with a title like Insurgent should pack more punch than this laborious middle chapter.

Insurgent

Lights! Cameras! Uhhh…

Insurgent comes to theaters with a lot of goodwill. Its precursor, Divergent, broke out from the pack of young adult movies trying to be the next big thing in the wake of The Twilight Saga and The Hunger Games. The series sports a likable lead couple in Shailene Woodley and Theo James, along with Kate Winslet as an imposing Erudite faction heavy who comes across as a (rather entertaining) mash-up of Faye Dunaway and Hillary Clinton (No wire hangers! What difference does it make?!)

This sequel, though, is largely a letdown, even a presentation in IMAX (with atrocious 3D) can’t breathe energy into the action. And that is the biggest problem. It’s an action movie without action. Sure, things happen. It’s a movie of perpetual motion — and lots (lots!) of talk, as well. But the action is merely recorded motion. Even as the bad guys zip-line between battered Chicago skyscrapers, there’s zero emotion infusing the action.

Leave that to director Robert Schwentke, whose filmography is all over the map with the entertaining (RED), the sloppy (The Time Traveler’s Wife), the mediocre (Flightplan) and the ugly (R.I.P.D.). And he’s already attached to direct at least the first part of Allegiant, the now obligatory two-part adaptation of the third book in the trilogy (taking a cue from the milking sensations of Harry Potter, Hunger Games and Twilight).

Stuck in the Middle

It doesn’t help matters that Akiva Goldsman gets a screenwriting credit. Laborious, soul-sucking adaptations are his forte. The Da Vinci Code. Winter’s Tale. He, more than Val Kilmer and George Clooney, killed off the Batman franchise in the ‘90s with his screenplays for Batman Forever and Batman and Robin. Of course, he had help muddying the factional waters here; newcomer Brian Duffield and the action-oriented Mark Bomback (Live Free or Die Hard) also contributed to this sluggish adventure.

It's not the movie’s stars that are miscast, it’s Schwentke and the writers.

At least plenty of money was poured into this installment’s visuals. The crummy 3D notwithstanding, the movie looks good and affords richer production values than Divergent.

But maybe, giving this creative team some plausible deniability, there’s something weird about Veronica Roth’s source story. It feels like the filler middle book required to stretch a story arc into a full-fledged trilogy.

Enter “The Box”

Following the action of Divergent, Insurgent picks up with Jeanine (Winslet) sending troops out to find a mysterious box with some sort of really important content. It’s found at the home of the parents of Tris (Woodley). And to open it, well, that’s a whole other problem. It requires a true-blue Divergent, a Factionless individual who can withstand virtual reality simulations of all five factions.

Um. Okay. That seems to be divergent from the Insurgent novel, but maybe the YA fans will remain allegiant to this muddled, dry storyline. Having no recollection of even a passing reference to this all-important box in the first movie, kicking off this sequel with the box being central to the action turns the entire narrative into cheap, random storytelling.

Rather than a story arc that follows the tried-and-true concepts of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, this one’s turned into a rambling struggle to follow the growth of Tris from run-of-the-mill teen to leader. That’s a disservice to what started in Divergent as a strong character and a series with a lot of thematic potential.

• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.

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