This review is spoiler free for those who have not read and/or watched Insurgent but assumes the reader has read and/or watched Divergent.
It felt like only yesterday that I was speed-reading Divergent to make it to the silver-screen adaptation of same in time. Yet I was doing the same again, having impulsively booked tickets to an advanced screening of Insurgent last night. I had commenced reading Insurgent immediately after watching Divergent but left the final 10 chapters unfinished as it was getting a little repetitive and slow paced for me. Insurgent, the movie, is anything but slow paced but do not let the shiny imagery fool you.
Insurgent plunges audiences back to dystopian Chicago where society has been divided into factions, Dauntless (enforcers), Candor (judiciary), Amity (agriculture), Erudite (knowledge) and Abnegation (legislature). The Divergents belong to two or more factions, like our protagonists Tris and Tobias (Shailene Woodley and Theo James). They are branded a danger to the society and hunted by the likes of Jeanine Mathews (Kate Winslet). The audiences are also introduced to the faction-less (self-explanatory) led by the enigmatic Evelyn Johnson (Naomi Watts).
The film opens with Tris and Tobias taking refuge of the Amity grounds. Meanwhile Jeanine has retrieved a metal box seemingly created by the founders of their society that holds a secret about their very existence. The box can only be opened by a Divergent and so begins Jeanine’s ruthless hunt for Tris and others like her.
The film cleverly compresses the book by employing a fast paced narrative, thrilling action sequences and sleek CG imagery to boost. It does so without dismantling the principle defining moments of the novel even if it tweaks it a bit to simplify it for a wider audience. For instance, in the book Jeanine already knows about the secret and wants to protect it by experimenting on and executing Divergents. In the film, she is unaware of the secret and incessantly tries to uncover it by experimenting on and executing Divergents.
In its bid for simplification the film does away with the underlying political tension between the faction ideologies and the over arching issues of loyalty, betrayal and trust. Unfortunately, in doing so, it also does away with the beautiful complexities of the characters, the dynamics between them and the world they live in.
We meet a reckless, guilt-ridden and grieving Tris in Insurgent and while the film does not demonstrate her broken psyche as expertly as Roth did, they still do a pretty good job of it. That being said, the ill-effects of Tris’s battle with her inner demons on her relationship with Tobias are more or less non-existent, which was particularly disappointing because I felt their struggles distinguished from them other couples in YA fiction today.
Tobias’ has very little to do in this adaption, a sore point for me because while being a titular character in the series, he is also Tris’s voice of reason on her path to self-destruction in Insurgent. Their dynamics are portrayed as being far too rosy and simple in the circumstances. Any dialogue scenes appear short and rationed, relegated to being mere stepping stones for the next action sequence, further stunting any character development.
Enormous liberties are taken with the simulation sequences but the stunning imagery is undeniably cool and makes for a great watch on the big screen. The production design is rich and sleek. The Amity, Erudite and factionless compounds were straight out of my imagination so it was brilliant to see them come to life. I particularly enjoyed that the Candor headquarters was made to look like a court house/law library with the residents’ dresses fashioned after barristers’ robes.
I did feel that the cinematographer could have gone easier on the close ups of Woodley which were too close for comfort and unnerving to watch on the big screen. Some of the slow motion actions sequences were similarly ill-advised.
The entire cast ensemble was quite impressive, Miles Teller more so than others. This time round, the chemistry between Woodley and James was underwhelming. In theory Tris emerges a different person in Insurgent but Woodley, who starts off strong, eventually just opts for more the same expressions and mannerisms which becomes tiring. James felt too stiff (no pun intended) and distant, but in his defence there was a very limited scope for him to perform any kind of histrionics.
In conclusion, Insurgent proves to be more engaging than the book but propels the narrative forward a little carelessly for my liking, choosing style over substance. That being said, I believe the film works quite well on its own. It has the makings of a decent action-thriller and if that is your thing, I highly recommend it.