Can a film series become important by sheer force of will?
The 400-Word-Review: Insurgent
By Sean Collier
March 24, 2015
Well, maybe. But to the point: can one become important by sheer force of hype?
The machine behind the Divergent franchise certainly seems to think so. Like a half-dozen vaguely sci-fi, vaguely dystopian pictures per year since about 2011, the first film — just Divergent — was released to theaters in March 2014 bearing the next-Hunger-Games tag. And it did, you know, okay. Its approximately $151 million haul would be the envy of many studios, but among tentpoles, that’s light; it barely squeaked past Neighbors to become the 19th-highest grosser of the year, trailing its rival The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 by more than $186 million.
Hell, it trailed the franchise-ending Amazing Spider-Man 2 by $50 million.
But seriously — these movies are a big deal! The books, by Veronica Roth, are bestsellers (by certain metrics)! This is the star turn for blooming superpower Shailene Woodley (assuming you ignore The Fault in Our Stars and The Descendants)! It’s a multi-film epic series, just like Twilight (without the box office) and Hunger Games (without the quality)!
So, is the new one — with the typically clunky title The Divergent Series: Insurgent — any good?
After realizing she’s a big deal in the first movie, Tris (Woodley) is on the run, along with love interest Four (Theo James), brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort, Woodley’s Fault co-star) and smart-mouthed running buddy Peter (Miles Teller, Woodley’s Spectacular Now co-star). Evil overlord Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet) is looking to stamp out the order-threatening power of the Divergents — people who are good at more than one thing, basically — and now the superkids are bouncing around the underworld to find safe haven and allies.
Meanwhile, Jeanine needs Tris to open up a special macguffin — sorry, box — that will unveil a message that will lead the way to, uh, something. (This is explained when Winslet literally walks on screen and explains it, and could only have been more ham-fisted if she had preceded the narration with, “Okay, here’s what this movie is about.”)
The effects are occasionally competent, and the cast is downright good — two factors which often distract from the script’s total lack of focus and clarity. Don’t believe the hype, though; Tris is no Katniss, and this series is just not worth your attention. Just as you suspected.
My Rating: 5/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark