Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet, Miles Teller, Naomi Watts, Jai Courtney, Ansel Elgort, Daniel Dae Kim, Mekhi Phifer, Maggie Q, Octavia Spencer, Ashley Judd, Tony Goldwyn, Zoë Kravitz
Written by: Brian Duffield, Akiva Goldsman, Mark Bomback, based on a novel by Veronica Roth
Directed by: Robert Schwentke
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense violence and action throughout, some sensuality, thematic elements and brief language
Running Time: 119
Date: 03/20/2015
IMDB

Insurgent (2015)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Inside the Box

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

No one ever seems to pick up on the idea that many of these young-adult fantasy movies, which encourage young women to be powerful and to question authority, are products of that same authority. While the onscreen story goes through the motions, the movie itself actually does nothing more than urge customers to watch the movie, and to buy the movie, and to buy all the products. The final straw is the "let's split the final book into two movies so we can make more money" ploy. When Harry Potter tried that, there was some small argument for an artistic choice. After that, it was pure greed.

As for the Divergent series, we will have to wait until 2016 and 2017 to see those climactic, cinematic events, and instead we are currently faced with the second film, Insurgent, based on the second book by twenty-something Veronica Roth. The good news is that Insurgent is actually a bit better than last year's draggy, brain-dead Divergent. There has been a change in director, and though Robert Schwentke (Red, R.I.P.D., etc.) is arguably less talented than Neil Burger, he nevertheless turns in a shorter movie, swifter, and more effortlessly paced. The action scenes do not outstay their welcome, and they actually seem somewhat relevant to the story.

On the downside we have the screenplay, which takes lazy shortcuts, is filled with exposition and awkward gestures, and contains laughably shallow dialogue for honest, hard-working actors to read. In other words, it's the work of none other than Akiva Goldsman, the worst screenwriter ever to win an Oscar for screenwriting. Among his glittering credits are Batman & Robin, The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons, and last year's much-despised Winter's Tale (which he also directed). Of course he apparently had help here from two other credited writers, Brian Duffield and Mark Bomback, but that familiar stench is all Goldsman's.

It's often painful to watch accomplished actors struggle through this material, knowing plainly that they are all here because of the financial opportunities this movie provided, rather than its artistic ones. Oscar winners and nominees Kate Winslet, Naomi Watts, and Octavia Spencer earn the most sympathy; the gap between their talent and the material is the largest. And, as I said about the previous film, watching Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller in these films only reminds us of how terrific, intimate, and human they were in The Spectacular Now, and how sorely that humanity is lacking here. Actors like Theo James and Jai Courtney may or may not be talented outside this series, but in this movie they come across as a hunk and a bully, respectively, and nothing more. Mekhi Phifer and Maggie Q have so very little to do, it's hardly worth mentioning.

The story begins with Tris (Woodley), Four (James), Peter (Teller), and Tris' brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) hiding out with the Amity faction. They are discovered, and we learn that Jeanine (Winslet) is searching for a powerful divergent. (Someone has invented a gizmo that can measure the percentage that someone is divergent. How handy!) She has a glowing, symbolic box that will reveal some kind of amazing secret, and it can only be opened by such a divergent, which — of course — is our "chosen one," Tris. There are lots of fights and chases, and finally, to save her friends, Tris marches right into the dragon's lair and gives herself up. In the meantime, she has nightmares about the deaths of her parents, and cuts off her long, dreamy locks, which may or may not have been a good idea.

The good news is that the movie actually comes to what feels like a kind of ending, which means that people who are bored of this series can stop here.

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