Widely tipped as a potential young-adult franchise-starter, there was a lot of hype preceding the release of Divergent last year. After all is said and done, the sci-fi action drama did more than okay with a global cume of nearly USD300 million, which was way ahead of other tentpole wannabes targeting this demographic like The Host or The Mortal Instruments, but still falling short of expectations. The sobering box office numbers incidentally also reflected the middling quality of the film: snappy popcorn entertainment with a dose of intellectual ambition that doesn't reach any level of greatness but is nowhere near the worst of what this genre has to offer. The inevitable sequel fares more or less like a genetic extension of the original, only with some visible, mostly cosmetic improvements.
Once again based on the bestselling novel by Veronica Roth, Insurgent rightly sheds off about 30 minutes in length but feels, if anything, more substantial than its predecessor. The "divergent" couple Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) flees from the city and the 5-faction system that once held everything in place but is now in turmoil after an essential coup staged by power woman Jeanine (Kate Winslet). Before they can return with their names cleared and unlock a sacred message that will forever change the community's collective worldview, there will be sanctuaries sought, alliances formed, friends betrayed, presumed dead mother found and all kinds of simulation tests survived.
For some unconvincing logic, roughened character development and the plastic air of its imperfectly imagined cosmos, the story can't be called smart, although it does feature interesting individual aspects. The political angle of the inter-factional warfare, for example, mirrors timeless human motivations and intrigues accordingly. Despite the persisting problem of unrefined CGI and a gray-ish, dystopian visual palette that could be lifted directly from the Hunger Games series, the film also looks better than the first one. The lovely art direction on that commune-like refuge, the impressive aerial photography during a couple of chase sequences and the generally crisper editing all did their part. Acting-wise, no one from the cast particularly stands out, meaning James is not as wooden as the last time around but also that Winslet underwhelms yet again in icy dictator-mode. Overall this is not a bad way to kill two hours, even if, as in the case of most teenager-oriented cinematic products, one might be hard pressed to name where that time went just a few days later.
Insurgent | Directed by Robert Schwentke (USA 2015) with Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet. Starts March 19