There’s a movie that comes before Insurgent, called Divergent, but it’s so unmemorable that any viewer could be forgiven for being completely in the dark when the first images of Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James), Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and Peter (Miles Teller) pop on screen. Who are these young scrubs? What are they doing at the edge of a forest? And why are they approaching a bunch of colorfully dressed farmers who all have sunshine bursting from their asses?

 

Such are the weighty, or at least present, thoughts that may well accompany you as you try to remember why you should give a shit about any of these people. Teller naturally acquits himself first, winking at a young farmer on a food line and telling her to have a beautiful day.

 

Everyone else earns his keep over the rest of the movie, sort of. James doesn’t have to do much but look pretty and grab Woodley a million times by the wrist (not a great image, filmmakers). Caleb moons like a depressed puppy. And Woodley sports a pixie cut that at best is a bad idea and at worst is distracting.

 

Maybe the distraction is a ploy to keep you from thinking about the story. Insurgent, bless its heart, relies even more on Young Adult fiction tropes than The Hunger Games, a series it resembles from top to bottom.

 

On the story front, Insurgent has two problems. First, its plot is so etched in stone that there’s absolutely no room for character development. That’s why Four, even after learning his mother, rebellion/Factionless leader Evelyn (a welcome Naomi Watts), is alive, doesn’t register an emotion beyond exhausted, presumably from all the running.

 

Tris is a bigger dilemma, and she embodies the story’s second problem. She views the death of her mother and father in the first film as her fault, and she hates herself for it. She also killed one of her friends and is at odds with her brother (Elgort). But all of these things she struggles with are plot developments designed to kick the story in the butt. There are absolutely no stakes in her character arc. When the map is configured before you got there, who cares how you reach the end?

 

As written, Tris needs to make certain realizations at certain times, otherwise the story falls apart. And as for that story, it’s just dumb. The ending—when the contents of a mysterious box are revealed—makes absolutely no sense on a human level, given everything that comes before it. But for the YA audience, it’s perfect. To be divergent is to be wonderfully unique, and your weirdness, character defects and imperfections are what will save the world. It sounds more like an AA meeting than it does a story thread in a major motion picture.

 

Woodley, of whom I’m normally a big fan, struggles in Insurgent. She still has that squeaky teen voice that makes her difficult to believe when she says, “We need to kill Jeanine” (Kate Winslet). But maybe she’s difficult to believe because no one could possibly be scared of someone named Jeanine. Whatever the case, there will be—this is a guess—mindfuckery from beyond the walls and skullfuckery from Four’s mother (and the studio) in Allegiant, which is guaranteed to be two movies itself one day. Ugh.


 

INSURGENT

Directed by Robert Schwentke

With Winslet, Woodley, and James

Regal Stadium 14

PG-13

119 min.