MOVIE REVIEW: Insurgent
April 30, 2015
Under the guiding eyes of boots-on-the-ground executive producers Todd Lieberman and Dave Hoberman, along with producers Doug Wick and Lucy Fisher (among others), and with the energizing and fully sensory stimulating direction of Robert Schwentke (taking the reins from “Divergent” director Neil Burger) and with the blessings of author Veronica Roth, INSURGENT diverges from the printed pages of the second installment of the Roth books, resulting in a film that is pure HIGH OCTANE, EDGE OF YOUR SEAT EXHILARATION!
Thanks to an introspective, yet action-packed focus on our heroine Tris and her coming to grips with her own conscience, Schwentke and company bring us up to speed on what transpired in “Divergent” while setting the stage for the final two “Allegiant” films and the possibility of a world, a life, outside the electric fence that encircles this once-thriving metropolis. INSURGENT seamlessly bridges the past and the future while planting us firmly in the present of this dystopian society built from the ruins of Chicago. As a reminder, the “Divergent” world is divided into five factions - Erudite, Abnegation, Dauntless, Amity, Candor and then, the Factionless. The loose cannons in the bunch - the ones that fit in no one group, but have traits of all - are known as “Divergents”, of which Tris is one.
Jeanine, head of Erudite and wannabe ruler of the world, has been trying to take down all of the factions and rule the entire society with an iron fist. Using her military minions in Dauntless, she has all but succeeded, save for the Divergents, and most notably, the rebels, Tris, Four and Peter, along with Tris’ Erudite brother Caleb, who escaped Jeanine’s evil clutches in installment one. Now, as our little group try to figure out what to do next, they take refuge in the peace-loving Amity thanks to the kindness of their leader, Johanna; that is until Dauntless leaders Eric and Max discover their whereabouts.
While Tris and company are back on the run, we also learn the reason for Jeanine’s obsession with rounding up Divergents. It’s not to control them, it’s to tap into their power to open a box which has been discovered; a box long ago hidden by Tris’ mother Natalie and for which she gave her life protecting; a box which contains a message from the society founders, a message which Jeanine believes will tell her how to have absolute power and control. And the box can only be opened by someone who possesses the genetic traits of all of the factions and pass a test of five “sims”, i.e., the Divergents. But as smart as she is, or thinks she is, Jeanine has made some huge missteps in her plans for not only capturing and controlling the Divergents, but in what she believes the box will give her.
Knowing that they must defeat Jeanine and stop her reign of terror not only for their own sakes but for all of the people, Tris, Four, Peter and Caleb hook up with the Factionless who are preparing to wage their own battle against Jeanine. Believed by all to have no sense of community or leadership system, it comes as a surprise to find them being led by Evelyn, a woman with dark secrets of her own, secrets that put a whole new spin on the allegiance of Four.
As the situation intensifies and intel is made known, the situation becomes clear to Tris. She must sacrifice herself for the greater good; she must stop Jeanine’s killing machine; she must do for others what she could not do for her parents. And as Tris and Jeanine move ever closer to the greatest battle of wills ever seen, allegiances, friendships and families are tested to the breaking point.
Directed by Robert Schwentke from screenplay by Brian Duffield, Akiva Goldsman and Mark Bomback based on the Roth novel, INSURGENT diverges from the book and provides stunning opportunities for large immersive cinematic set pieces, stemming from the visual design and execution of the “sims” virtual-reality sequencing. Breaking glass ceilings and walls, literally and figuratively, Schwentke sweeps us into the fray and thanks to IMAX 3D, creates the physical sense that we are right there with Tris, swinging from dilapidated building to dilapidated building, hanging on a piece of rebar jutting from a burning house that is floating in the air, or suspended in the hell of her own subconscious fears brought to life. This is without a doubt the first true action film to be found in the YA world and expand its horizons beyond pre-conceived limitations of the genre. As Schwentke did with the AARP generation in “Red”, he does with INSURGENT. Exhilaration and excitement are an understatement to describe the intensity achieved. We are there. We are in battle. We are on the run. We are running side-by-side, although Tris is always a little bit ahead. And keeping us there is also the attention to the core fundamental of the franchise - Tris.
In spite of or despite the razzle dazzle of the physical effects and visuals, we are firmly rooted in Tris’ mind, emotions and heart with the screenwriters steeping us in the emotional ramifications of actions, past and present. The filmmakers never lose that focus or point of view. Brought in to the mix are very human emotions and ideals of love, forgiveness, trust, redemption and death.
Also key is that with INSURGENT we learn more about the other factions and classes. Whereas “Divergent” focused on Abnegation, Dauntless and Erudite, now we learn more about Candor and Amity as well as the Factionless. The story wealth is seamlessly spread amongst the masses of society, slowly building us to the crescendo that becomes the roots of “Allegiant”.
While touched upon visually in “Divergent” by director Neil Burger and his team, with INSURGENT, Schwentke and his technical artisans build the “real world” out of the surrealism of the sims virtual-reality. It’s a head-wrapping effect that is lush and beautiful and engaging while surrounding us in the physicality and hand-to-hand combat of the raging civil war. The art of rotoscoping is used to its best and finest advantage. A blend of live action, practical effects, impressive amounts of stuntwork and VFX under the guise of VFX Supervisor James Madigan and his team, the result will leave you mindblown and breathless.
Also key to the immersion of INSURGENT is the 360 degree construction of big set pieces like the exterior farmland and forest of Amity (a local region in Atlanta, Georgia substituting for Chicago), the beauteous glass and chrome of Candor and the gunmetal toned concrete and rock for a subterranean sense of Factionless. Each is distinctive, detailed, tactile and textured. Production designer Alec Hammond outdoes himself with the meticulous attention to detail in each. Particularly notable is the Amity Dome, perhaps one of the most impressive pieces in the film, which also allowed director Schwentke to employ the use of crane shots and drones to achieve unprecedented realism and action.
Costuming also plays a bigger part in INSURGENT. With the expanded attention to each of the factions, similar attention is paid to the costumes for each. And like Hammond’s production design, costumer Louise Mingenbach finds the devil in the details right down to buckles and buttons, snaps and zippers, all those little touches that would vary based on societal status and station and availability of product to each.
The returning cast more than prove their mettle and up their own games with intensity and physicality, among them, Shailene Woodley as Tris, Theo James as Four, Ansel Elgort as Caleb, Miles Teller as Peter (and look out for some real cockiness and fun from Teller as the screenwriters expand the role of Peter to capitalize on Teller’s skills and skyrocketing fame), Kate Winslet as Jeanine, Jai Courtney as Eric, Mekhi Phifer as Max, Zoe Kravitz as Christina and Maggie Q as Tori. Ashley Judd and Tony Goldwyn also reprise their roles as Tris’ parents, Natalie and Andrew, but are depicted as flashback memories (but new scenes) in Tris’ nightmares and in sims. Ray Stevenson also returns as Four’s father, Marcus, and while his screen time is minimal, it is once again, key.
Joining the action this time around is Naomi Watts as the dangerous and dark Evelyn, Daniel Dae Kim as Jack Kang leader of Candor and Octavia Spencer as Johanna the kind and loving head of Amity. Kim is perfect grace as Kang while Spencer just warms the heart with a grounding sensibility. And who knew Watts could bring such a delicious dark mystery to the table.
But it is the youth - Woodley, James, Elgort, Teller, Courtney and Phifer - who command the show here. Their physicality alone is almost surreal with each doing as many of their own stunts as insurance would allow, and then still begging to do more. And it is the screen presence of each that shows their true star power not only individually, but working as a collective ensemble. Standout is Courtney who has all the makings of the next action star.
I would be remiss not to mention the heart-pounding, pulsating and “freeing” scoring of Joseph Trapanese. It truly gives you a feeling of flying and freedom - emotionally and physically unrestrictive.
It’s a rare thing when the second film in a franchise is better than the first, (“The Empire Strikes Back” being one prior exception to the rule) but with INSURGENT, that is definitely the case. Thanks to an author who understands the totality of the circumstance and cinematic translation from book to screen, together with producers, a director and screenwriters who are willing to go out on a limb and diverge from what may have been the foregone path and opt to expand not only the visual palette but the overall tonal bandwidth of a film, and take risks to immerse, excite and enthrall, INSURGENT surges with unparalleled exhilaration.
Directed by Robert Schwentke
Written by Brian Duffield, Akiva Goldsman and Mark Bomback based on the novel by Veronica Roth
Cast: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Ansel Elgort, Miles Teller, Jai Courtney, Mekhi Phifer, Kate Winslet, Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer, Daniel Dae Kim, Zoe Kravitz, Maggie Q, Ashley Judd, Tony Goldwyn, Ray Stevenson