The Divergent Series: Insurgent Review Round-Up: It's a Derivative, Incoherent, Beautiful Mess

Thursday, 12 March 2015 - 12:29PM
Thursday, 12 March 2015 - 12:29PM
The Divergent Series: Insurgent Review Round-Up: It's a Derivative, Incoherent, Beautiful Mess
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The first reviews are in for The Divergent Series: Insurgent, and it's not looking good. Granted, it barely matters, since you probably already know whether you're a fan of the franchise or not, but it doesn't seem at all promising for potential new converts. Even the ostensibly "positive" reviews agree that Insurgent is incredibly derivative of other dystopian YA franchises, that it suffers from middle child syndrome in the worst way, and even the efforts of star Shailene Woodley and standout Miles Teller can't save the film.


Critics tend to agree that the virtual reality sequences are visually striking and surprisingly creative, although they collectively wish that the part of the movie with narrative consequence had been equally inspired. And curiously, they almost unanimously agree that a scene near the end of the film is shockingly poignant, to the point that it seems like it belongs in a better movie, but I didn't include those quotations because they're fairly spoiler-y.


Here are the highlights from the (mostly blistering) early reviews:


It's cobbled together from other, superior YA franchises


Honestly, all the YA franchises are starting to bleed together, but Divergent is arguably the most guilty of perfunctorily hitting all the derivative Dystopian YA Novel Tropes. (It's likely no coincidence that the hilarious @DystopianYA account resembles Divergent more than any of the other franchises.)


"This is the one based on the popular YA novels about the special girl who fights back against a totalitarian government. Not 'The Hunger Games,' no; this is the one where everyone's in a walled city. Yeah, no, that would be 'The Maze Runner.' I'm talking about the movie where a slumming Academy Award winner plays the evil ruler like she's a cross between Hillary Clinton and Frau Blucher from 'Young Frankenstein.' I see where you're confused; that would be Meryl Streep in 'The Giver.' This is actually the movie where mankind's hope for the future is hiding out in caves. Seriously? 'The Host'? You saw that one?" - The Wrap


"Insurgent is certainly no Alien – nor a Hunger Games, nor a Maze Runner. Instead, it plays like a listless mash-up of every Young Adult franchise movie you've ever seen – domineering rulers, anguished, system-smashing teens, and all the purposeful striding through rubble you can handle." - The Telegraph


Who needs logic when you have a built-in fanbase?


"'I know this doesn't make any sense,' breathes Tris Prior during Insurgent's flamboyantly muddled finale, 'but you have to trust me.' You could hardly ask for a more honest line of dialogue than that." - The Telegraph


"The idea of a government dividing its citizens by personality traits makes no more sense here than it did a year ago, and neither does the notion that Divergence would be rare. But there are clunky new twists on the mythology here that make midi-chlorians seem positively ingenious." - Digital Spy


Shailene Woodley can do no wrong


"Insurgent, which is based on the second in a series of best-selling young-adult novels by Veronica Roth, is Woodley's show. Watching her is like watching Sigourney Weaver in Alien: you're witnessing the skin-prickling spectacle, better and more satisfying than any special effect, of an actress turning into a star." - The Telegraph


"Woodley is convincingly vulnerable and tough, and James makes Four's stoic strength persuasive. The rest of the performers bring as much dimension as they can to single-note characters." - THR


But she can't save Tris, who has unfortunately devolved since the first film


"The film is technically about Shailene Woodley's Beatrice Prior and her journey... But her character takes a backseat in her own story rendering its own lead as a passive observer in her own movie." - Forbes


"Despite Woodley's best efforts, shining again in the leading role, she's simply not been blessed with a nuanced, layered character in this instance." - Hey U Guys


"[Tris's] tearful hesitation grows tiring. [Director] Schwentke somewhat understandably has a weakness for closeups of Woodley (those eyes! those lashes!), but a distracting preponderance of tight shots of Tris welling up as she mulls her fate does nothing to heighten the emotional impact of her situation." - THR


The talented supporting cast is wasted, except for Miles Teller


"'Insurgent' perks up a bit when seasoned vets like [Kate] Winslet or Octavia Spencer... or Naomi Watts... pop up for a scene or two, but for the most part, this all plays out like yet another movie about pretty young people in futuristic sportswear punching or shooting each other." - The Wrap


"Watts, playing the presumed-dead mother of James's guarded Four, is one of several actors whose presence here is a head-scratcher: one can only assume that she and Octavia Spencer were compensated handsomely for their forgettable roles." - Digital Spy


"[Miles Teller's] character's Machiavellian maneuvers enliven the story with something close to intrigue; playing him with a wiseass swagger, Teller injects the glum doings with jolts of sarcastic energy." - THR


"The exception is Miles Teller, whose snarky, craven Peter is so much fun that you'll wish his anti-hero story were the film's focus. He's not on screen quite enough to make watching worthwhile, but he is the only character with something resembling an arc, and the only one who gets to raise an occasional eyebrow at the silliness of his surroundings." - Digital Spy


"The one actor who has been given an intriguing character to work with however, is Miles Teller, who plays Peter – yet his talents are not utilised nearly enough, with a distinct lack of screen time." - Hey U Guys


This is pretty faint praise, but it's overall better than Divergent


"After a shaky opening, The Divergent Series... offers a more cohesive and involving second installment with Insurgent... Having defined the rules of its dystopian future world in last year's Divergent, the saga is considerably less encumbered by exposition and setup." - THR


"In most objective terms, Insurgent is a better film than Divergent. It is swiftly paced, has some engaging action, is willing to write out major characters on a whim, and has a surprisingly satisfying resolution that both wraps up the core story while clearly establishing the narrative hook for whatever comes next." - Forbes


The virtual reality sequences are somehow the best part


"It's in the simulation episodes that Schwentke and cinematographer Florian Ballhaus, whose work is supple throughout, pull out the VFX big guns, creating extraordinary hallucinatory visuals that range from abstract imagery to the suspenseful journey of a burning house floating above an imploding city. In these scenes, the otherwise pointless 3D lends a subtle depth." - THR


"A film that works best when it places its heroine inside virtual-reality situations - at least then it has an excuse for eschewing logic and context." - The Wrap


"Packed into the film's last half-hour, these setpieces represent "Insurgent's" best effort at re-creating the surreal excitement of the first movie, allowing Tris to perform such superhuman feats as chasing a burning building across the sky and crashing through a bulletproof control-booth window." - Variety


"At least the virtual-reality sequences are better: in one, the city dissolves upwards into the air, as if each skyscraper were a giant Alka-Seltzer tablet. If only the rest of the film showed the same appetite for deconstruction." - The Telegraph


Marcia, Marcia, Marcia


"Like other middle parts of trilogies, the film spends more time spinning out or setting up story points than delivering them." - Screen Daily


"It all comes across feeling like a tempest in a teapot: a glorified rehash of what came before, garnished with the promise of what lies in store... Perhaps instead of splitting the third book into two movies, they should have considered combining the first two into one." - Variety

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