Insurgent continues a series tradition by being a painfully generic pubescent daydream preaching a cookie cutter message about being a special snowflake.
- Some special effects sequences look nice, capturing the jarring dissonance of a bad dream. Some practical sets are comparatively inviting next to the rest of the film, although it’s always more exciting to climb over rubble than to walk down a hallway.
- Octavia Spencer delivers her role briefly, with more professionalism and emotion than the rest of the cast combined. While Miles Teller plays an insufferable little Malfoy-analogue, his comic relief delivery provides the only respite from the smothering hammy seriousness of it all.
- The one time director Robert Schwentke shines is an early scramble to and alongside a moving train. He captures a rollicking propulsion that actually manages to make the cast exciting. It’s the one action scene that feels fun, dangerous, and physical.
- Shailene Woodley is no Jennifer Lawrence. She’s operating with much lower-tiered material, but nevertheless, with her shrill squeals punctuating every action, she lacks charisma as an action lead or empathy as a dramatic audience conduit. Her transitions from bemused detachment to flowing waterworks are abrupt and often, and her tragedies feel stilted rather than tangible. It’s hard to care that your mother is dead if you get to hug her in every other computer simulation/dream/don’t ask.
- Kate Winslet reads her childish exposition with a palpable disdain saturating her every moment on-screen. Theo James and Ansel Elgort play two sides of an uninterested coin, the brooding lover and brother of Woodley, respectively. The skills they employ during the film include staring woodenly into the distance, staring obstinately into the distance, and stubbornly refusing to look directly at our protagonist. Riveting.
- Now, it’s not these poor actors’ fault. Simplistic, vapid, dystopia-in-a-picture-book writing dooms the cast to an uphill battle. Much of it isn’t bad, just painfully obvious to anyone familiar with the young adult genre, any sort of dystopic fiction, or teenagers in general. Other parts aren’t so lucky, warping logic to fit into the convoluted labyrinth of the source material. Woodley at one point admits “I know this doesn’t make any sense”. I like to think this was out of character, and she was addressing someone off camera, trying to convince them that she didn’t understand this thing either.
- This unfortunate writing corrupts the story, the dialogue, and the characters. It’s impossible to blame any one person, because three writers received credit for the script, which in turn was based on Hunger Games knock-off source material. Like a collaborative version of the Food Network show Chopped, this film had too many cooks going in different directions with the most bland ingredients imaginable. The plot’s obsession with being different, the laughably milquetoast writing, and the story’s MacGuffin-driven engine can be summed by one line from Winslet’s antagonist: “Find me the very special one”.
- Some background green-screening looks sloppy (the environment lacks a realistic depth of field compared to the actors, so it looks like they’re walking in front of a picture), as do some of the effects. A truth serum is applied with an amateurish needle prop so obvious you almost think someone’s pushing the lead back into their mechanical pencil while pretending that it’s going into their arm.
Insurgent doesn’t know why it does the things it does. A character shoots another in the head. For love? For revenge? Does it affect him late at night? Eat away at him? We’ll never know. He did it because the bad guy was there and his time in the narrative was up.
Why does our lead cut off her hair at the start of the film? For something different. Just to FEEL something. I could accept this, accept an identity crisis, if it wasn’t acted like petulant rebellion.
A movie doesn’t know why it does the things it does when dreams that should be shocking, or poignant, or terrifying inspire gales of laughter from the audience. Insurgent has no handle on tone, no control over its broad angst. A central love story looks and feels like every other. A central villain looks and feels like every other. And they all pop in and out without stimulus, willed into existence to sell merchandise at Hot Topic.
Insurgent pleads to an assumed teenage certainty that they’re the most important, special beings in the universe.
Approaching the exploitation of this dissociation from society in the fashion most suited to the lowest common denominator, Insurgent manages to insult those it panders to.