“Tris this the real life? Is this just fantasy?”
The immortal words of Queen there, adapted and skewed as a film review title for the second outing in the Divergent series of blockbuster movies. Insurgent, the second instalment, received mixed reviews at its theatrical release earlier in the year, the most common reaction being an apathy towards teen-fiction adaptations (see Hunger Games, Twilight, The Maze Runner). So why should UK audiences think about engaging in yet another dystopian smorgasbord of teen heartthrobs running, jumping and being all moody?
To catch anyone up who has yet to watch the first film (or read the book), the Divergent series is set in a walled city, namely Chicago, where a structured eco-system has developed in which the population are categorised into different factions, depending on their personality. If you are brave and strong, you’re probably in Dauntless, if you are a boffin, you go to Erudite. The other factions are Candour (trustworthy), Amity (peaceful), and Abnegation (selfless). Of course, a rigorous pecking order like this has its issues, there are those who fit in nowhere (the faction-less) and those who are divergent - fit into any…
By the time we reach Insurgent, the storyline has become a chaotic thrill-ride in which Tris (Shailene Woodley), our Dauntless/Divergent heroine, is on the run from the government (led by a wickedly brilliant Kate Winslet). Having foiled a political coup by Jeanine (Winslet) in the first film, Tris is then framed as an upstart renegade who must be destroyed, leading her and her beau Four (Theo James) away from the pursuing forces, and into the arms of any faction who will have her.
There is a full-throttle pace about Insurgent that delivers on several levels. First off, the action in this movie is spectacular - delivering scene after scene of breathtaking moments that avoid any awkward dialogue spewing out (Twilight) and instead give out more knuckle sandwiches that a martial arts film. Secondly, Shailene Woodly delivers an astonishing performance within this role, giving a huge middle finger to gender inequality and roughing it out in fight sequences which would give The Raid a run for its money, whilst handling the emotional breakdown of her character with gravitas and poise. And lastly, Insurgent capitalises on the strides it made with the first film (great action, spiky attitude) without resorting to mindless romance plotlines or saccharine displays of heroism. Tris is a broken character in a messed up world, she’s not a damn Avenger!
That being said, the film does get caught up in its own cables, almost literally, as the plot moves into dream-simulator territory. As we see sequence after sequence of reality mixed with dream mixed with simulation, actual events become a afterthought and the focus is put on shattering glass and disintegrating heads! This removes too much threat and tension from the movie, leaving the audience with a feeling of “Well, they will probably be okay. It’s most likely a dream bit.”
So, where does Insurgent, and the Divergent series, rank in the list of franchise fury? Where does it sit in the pecking order of teen titles? Somewhere near the top is the answer.
The filmmaking is smarter and more enjoyable than Twilight, more coherent and brutal than The Maze Runner, and probably on par with the likes of The Hunger Games. It seems a shame that Woodley’s performance will be buried beneath a glut of box-sets, but having delivered sterling performances elsewhere (The Fault in Our Stars), and proving she has the knuckles for a good scrap, she should easily hit J-Law status any moment.
Review by Chris Olson
Insurgent is available on Blu-ray and DVD from 3rd August, courtesy of Entertainment One