Last year’s Divergent was a hodgepodge of other, better, equally hokey sci-fi movies (and a heavy dose of The Hunger Games). I likened it to Paul Verhoeven for teens, but infinitely less interesting than that might sound due to a dull cast of teenage “it” stars and a dreadfully straight-faced tone. Its sequel, Robert Schwentke’s Insurgent, is no different, though they reel in the wide net of its derivative nature and really only try to rip off the Wachowskis’ The Matrix (1999). And like Divergent, Insurgent only has the veneer of ideas, ones about otherness and totalitarianism and corruption — but says nothing about them. It’s more a film that’s following a blueprint of what dystopian sci-fi movies are supposed to talk about without actually tackling any of its ideas.
Not helping things is the tone, which has no room for fun. Heading it up is Shailene Woodley, who takes this acting thing very seriously, and who looks like a sourpuss in a middle-aged mom haircut. She plays our hero, Tris, who’s on the run from the evil government because she’s “divergent,” some sci-fi nonsense that drives the entire series. Not helping things are her support, like yet another smarmy, one-note performance from Miles Teller and the film’s love interest, the human Easter Island statue Theo James as the hunky Four. The big name actors here to class things up — like Kate Winslet and Naomi Watts — are also stricken with a case of taking this goofy nonsense seriously, thereby depressing the viewer even more by the thought of how much they got paid to slum it.
There’s a lot of talking and a lot of Tris looking so puckered that her face might collapse in on itself like it contains a black hole. Occasionally there’s a fight, and a bunch of stuff happens — a lot of rudimentary action movie stuff that’s both totally unimaginative and poorly staged. Sometimes there’s some slo-mo stuff happening (again, The Matrix), but that’s about as far as anyone wants to go creatively.
As for the plot, there’s only sort of one, most of which involves Tris on the run from Jeanine (Winslet), who needs Tris’ “divergence” in order to open some mysterious box. This box takes up the bulk of the movie while we wait for Tris to finally open the damn thing. And when she does, the big takeaway is some mealy-mouthed proselytizing about being different. It just drives home how lacking in real ideas and how wholly inconsequential the entire movie is, especially considering how proud it is of being so incredibly middlebrow. Insurgent — from its standing as a Hunger Games knockoff to a sequel — is perhaps the most superfluous movie imaginable. Rated PG-13 for intense violence and action throughout, some sensuality, thematic elements and brief language.