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Movie Review: Insurgent

Special to The Chronicle
Special to The Chronicle

If the goal of the sequel in a dystopian trilogy is to enhance the audience’s understanding of this fictional world and its belief system, then Insurgent missed the mark. In fact, the most noticeable difference between the plot, characters, and general feel of this film and its predecessor, is Shailene Woodley’s new haircut. Work it, girl!

I think the director Robert Schwentke even recognized that, which is why when Tris (Woodley) takes the scissors to her hair in that unnecessarily dramatic way, the next cut is to a flock of birds scattering into the air. It’s clarifying for the audience that the hair is an emotional metaphor––as opposed to the real-life actress’s style preference. But enough about her hair, there’s at least four other things of interest in the film to talk about.

Tris and hot beau Four (Theo James) are on the run along with her brother (Ansel Elgort––Woodley’s beau from The Fault in our Stars) and her frenemy (Miles Teller––Woodley’s cherry-popper from The Spectacular Now). Apparently, there are only three actors who get to work with Woodley, and it is totally not weird at all. It’s definitely not strange to see her with her brother-lover, her other-lover and Kate Winslet, whose presence continues to feel random even during this second go-round.

Jeanine (Winslet) is hunting down divergents––people who don’t fit into the sorting practice of their society––in order to preserve the repressive regime. To combat this, Dauntless (the action-faction) team up with the Factionless to take down “the man,” who in this instance is a woman in a blue dress. Bill Clinton understands the power of their kind.

Although there’s enough conflict for an entire film, the logic helming this world has problems and many of these issues have carried over from the first film. For example, it’s never addressed why divergents are perceived as dangerous, or what exactly a divergent is. Additionally, the bases of these factions don’t seem particularly different. Wouldn’t selfless people (Abnegation) also be peaceful people (Amity)? And wouldn’t those same people likely be honest (Candor)? Those pitfalls are not the fault of the film but of the source material.

However, the adaptation could have tried to incorporate some subtleties that might have made certain scenes seem less silly. Tris and Four are injected with a truth serum––which they should know is really called Veritaserum. Then the pair testifies in front of the Candor faction. This sequence presents an opportunity to make the faction about something more than literal honesty. Instead, they maintain the extreme nature of each faction at every turn, neglecting any attempts at nuance.

The story also borrows more than truth serum from JK Rowling. Jeanine draws Tris from hiding by guilting her into coming forward to protect the lives of others. There’s even an echoing all-present voice that’s used to deliver this message. Sure, that plot device is not copyrighted but in the current world of YA-novels-turned-films, you cannot go without comparison to Harry Potter, and Divergent is no Harry Potter. These stories are simply not as complex or interesting. Aside from the mystery of what on earth the third installment (which is of course coming in the form of two movies) will possibly be about, nothing about Insurgent is thought provoking.

However, Allegiant Part 1 is on its way because as far as Hollywood goes, the leading faction is money, and Shailene Woodley’s pixie cut has taken the number one spot at the box office.