Thanks to J.K. Rowling, the YA franchise market is hot, and it continues to be hot. Studios, hoping to capitalize on Harry Potter fever, have been buying up the rights to YA books, and they have been busy turning them into films. For whatever reason, a lot of them never went anywhere: The Golden Compass, I Am Number Four, The Seeker: The Dark is Rising, and Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events to name a few, but a few have been successful, including The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, and, of course, the Veronica Roth –gent books, starting with Divergent, continuing with Insurgent, and ending with Allegiant.
Of the aforementioned popular ones, my favorite is The Hunger Games. It has solid acting, good writing, and a healthy enough dose of political and social commentary to hold my interest. In addition, it has a strong female lead character, played brilliantly by Jennifer Lawrence, and a couple of entertaining characters played by Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks, and Woody Harrelson. The Maze Runner was OK; nothing really new or innovative. To be honest, I was a bit surprised that it made money at the box office, and that a second film is being made. Divergent, too, was OK, but when compared with The Hunger Games, it can’t even begin to compete. Sure, it too has a “strong” central female, but Tris (Shailene Woodley) is no Katniss Everdeen, the bow-and-arrow wielding, “I’m taking on the capital so get out of my way,” “I don’t have time for a love interest” heroine. And Divergent is definitely not as intelligent or insightful as The Hunger Games, but I like Theo James, who plays Four in the former, so I have continued with the franchise.
After having seen Insurgent; however, I’m kind of sorry that I did. It is an even inferior film to Divergent in so many ways, and Divergent wasn’t a star in its own right. What went wrong? A lot of things, but for brevity’s sake, I will mention just a few. The biggest problem is with Tris. (I was less than impressed with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay: Part I, but I don’t think it was because of Katniss.) In the first film, the character is learning who she is and growing as a person. In Insurgent, she has two modes: Angry and ready to kick everyone in the teeth, or crying. That’s it. But she’s not the only character stuck in one-dimensional hell. Four, who I thought was really interesting in Divergent, is relegated to “boyfriend” in this film. I don’t remember him doing anything other than offering a shoulder on which hot-headed Tris could lean. Jeanine (Kate Winslet), essentially the female version of President Snow (Donald Sutherland) in The Hunger Games, is also one note here. You almost half expect the front of her face to come off and reveal a fembot who then starts shouting “exterminate.”
I haven’t read any of the books – neither the Divergent saga nor The Hunger Games sage – so I have no idea if this character development issue is on the novelist or with screenwriters Brian Duffield, Akiva Goldsman, and Mark Bomback. Second films have a reputation for being pure suck, so it might also be that. The reason this happens is that the first film gives you the origin story, the second continues the drama, and then the third is the completion of the conflict. Beginnings and ending are always more dramatic; more fun. Development can be boring. Another problem with the film is that nothing that happens really seems all that probable; it’s all so convenient that the pieces fall into the places that they do. We have yet ANOTHER situation in which there is a sacred object found and a “chosen one” and all that jazz. I cannot tell you how tired I am with “chosen one” films. If I never see another one in my lifetime, it will be a happy day. I am not completely abandoning the Divergent franchise. I made it this far; I will see how it ends, I just won’t be as enthusiastic about it. (I am actually more enthusiastic for Hollywood to make the rest of The Giver franchise, but I don’t even know if that’s happening or not. And I WANTED them to continue with I Am Number Four, and The Golden Compass, but no one in Hollywood cares what I want.)
Because the characters are bland, so are the actors. I am not even remotely a fan of Woodley, and this performance does absolutely nothing to change my mind. James, I still like. Maybe it’s because he’s handsome. I give handsome guys a bigger pass than I do anyone else. Sue me. And Winslet, she looks bored. It’s as if someone said, “Kate, you have to be in this film, and she stamped her foot and shouted ‘bugger it,’ but turned up anyway.” She is a professional, after all. If there is one good thing about Insurgent, it is Miles Teller, who plays Peter. I think what changed my perception of him was seeing him in Whiplash. I never thought much of him, but since Whiplash, which blew my mind, I have liked him, and his character Peter, a smartassy guy, had me chuckling quite a bit in Insurgent. He was the only one who seemed to want to be in this film. You know? Like he showed up and said, “hey, this script blows, but I’m working it. I’m doing my thing.” And he did, and because of that, I got a little happier whenever he turned up. I almost forgot the suckage.
Hey, here’s an idea: Let’s throw the audience for a loop with the last film. Kill off the lead – they will never see it coming! – which means we can ditch Woodley, and make the last film in the trilogy about Peter? That would be great! Team him up with Four, and put them on the road. Let’s make it a buddy film. Hell, let’s give them their own sitcom! I can think of one million ways to improve Insurgent, and it would have included getting a different lead actress and getting a new script.
On the bright side, Fantastic Four, which features Teller as Mr. Fantastic isn’t too far away. August 7, baby. I will even endure spending two hours with Kate Mara, who I loathe, to see Teller working his sassy magic. And if you haven’t seen Whiplash, remedy that now. Skip Insurgent, unless you are a completist or something, and just rent Whiplash. Or rewatch The Hunger Games. Or The Giver. So many much better films out there.
Rating: 2 stars out of 5