We’ve been here before: in a future totalitarian regime, those with power and control seek to put down idealistic rebels, among whom there is one leader who is in fact, the One.
Insurgent, the second installment in the Divergent series that looks to spawn a couple more films and offer a cinematic addendum to The Hunger Games, has an Us v. Them mentality amid sci-fi prophesy, swirling emotions, attractive young stars, and a fabulous hair cut.
Indeed, never has a heroine chopping off her hair been portrayed in the way a film would show a character sacrificing a limb or enduring massive physical pain. As looming scissors prepare to snip off the long locks of Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) as the film begins, we cut to a forest where screeching birds take flight in dramatic fashion.
It’s one of the more memorable moments in a story that features the rising starlet’s new look; her insurgency runs far more familiar though.
On the run alongside her concerned beau Four (Theo James), the mentally-plagued though emotionally resilient Tris seeks to escape the clutches of an oppressive government while seeking out those who can join her fight. A slew of multicultural, tattooed, pierced, and hair-dyed teens emerge from the shadows to take on Kate Winslet’s strictly enforced caste system.
Among those in the crossfire are Octavia Spencer, Naomi Watts, Ray Stevenson, and the ghost of Ashley Judd. For the youth movement, Miles Teller and Zoe Kravitz fight with and against our heroine, while Jai Courtney and Mekhi Phifer give chase. All these notable people and moving pieces don’t necessarily clash, but there exists no whole: just a story made by committee with generic motifs, polished looks, and distracting actions.
More energetic and efficient than the first film, and with far less expository nonsense, Insurgent has more to say while offering plenty of bloodless murder. For its target audience – those who savoured the YA novels from which the series is based, as well as those seeking young female heroines living under dystopian regimes – we’ve a serviceable, tightly-executed adventure.
That the story moves from an initial, simplistic message of ‘we are all individuals that can’t be organized into one of five boxes’ of the first film to something along the lines of fighting back against institutions will find new and welcome resonance. Insurgent, though, is still tepid, made for mass consumption more than meaning, inoffensive and unremarkable, entertaining, if only for a brief moment.
That is, Insurgent doesn’t want to lead the charge of a new type of film, one where society is neither racist nor sexist and in fact featuring powerful females of both good and evil motives. It has those things, but still a template, a follower. We need these films, yes, but could use more from them too.
On the other hand, Woodley’s chopped locks go a long way.