There is a laughable irony in the fact that the main narrative thrust of the Divergent franchise is all about doing your own thing and not just fitting into your community’s preconceived definitions of who you’re supposed to be – hell, the giveaway is right there in the title! – and yet Insurgent, the second chapter in this increasingly tiresome series, goes out of its way to emulate and downright copy elements from its far more successful YA peers. What’s worse, it copies the bad elements that everybody usually points and laughs at!

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With a brand new creative team led by Flightplan and RED director Robert Schwentke, I was hoping that Insurgent would right the wrongs of its predecessor and finally live up to the potential of its admittedly A-grade casting. Yes, it would still be hamstrung by its nose-snortingly ludicrous plot – a post apocalyptic future where everybody is strictly divided into Factions based on emotional temperament/natural affinity (because apparently its criminal to be both honest and able to grow potatoes!) – but now that the shaky world-building was done, we could really get stuck into the widescreen adventures of polymath hero Tris (Shailene Woodley) and the mystery of what exists beyond The Wall – DUN DUN DUNNNN! – that surrounds this last bastion of humanity.

But with threadbare source material that sees more spinning of wheels than the new Fast & Furious movie, Insurgent simply doesn’t have the narrative chops to be engaging. While the fans of many book to screen adaptations decry the current trend of turning one novel into two movies, here moviegoers might be left pondering as to why the stories from the second and third books couldn’t rather just be combined into one, infinitely more exciting movie.

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For what its worth, Insurgent’s story sees the divergent (i.e. she doesn’t fit into just one faction, which is somehow the worst thing anybody can ever do, because reasons) Tris and her ridiculously monikered beau Four (Theo James) still on the run and hiding out in the farmland homestead of the Amity Faction with Tris’ corn-fed brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and bad bad-boy Peter (Miles Teller). Kate Winslet’s most boringly named villain ever, Jeanine Mathews, the head of the brainy Erudite Faction and also the architect behind the massacring of Tris’ original faction Abnegation, which included her parents, has somehow pinned all her crimes on Tris’ “rogue group of Divergents”. Turns out that the decimation of Abnegation was all to find a mysterious box, a message left by the founding fathers of this factioned society which will supposedly lead them to some kind of enlightenment. But the box can only be opened by a Divergent, which is not a problem for Jeanine as she was planning to hunt them down (and kill them all) anyway as they are everything that’s wrong with society. Once again, because reasons.

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Cue lots of plot padding and needless running around by Tris and her not so merry band. There are also some drudging story beats about Tris having some anger management problems (at one stage she tries to shank Peter over a dinner table prison style), Four trying to work out some abandonment issues with his mother (Naomi Watts) who is back from the dead and leading an army of Factionless who want to take the battle to Erudite, and Caleb being about as useful as a lead balloon and equally just as charismatic. Not that the rest of the cast fares much better.

Shailene Woodley may be a fantastic dramatic actress, but she’s a clumsy and awkward action heroine at best, never showing a scrap of the believable physicality or easy-going charm of the current queen of the genre Katniss Everdeen. Theo James may do better in the fisticuffs department, but he is essentially just a scowl with a body attached to it, with the chemistry between him and Woodley also being completely inert. And while veterans like Watts and Winslet offer the occasional thespian diversion, it’s all embarrassingly forgettable. Except, actually for Jai Courtney’s brief but enlivening turn as Jeanine’s studded attack dog, Eric, as he gets hearts thumping with an intense physicality in the best action beat of the film. Pity he doesn’t hang around long.

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Director Robert Schwentke also manages to bring some impressive techno-coolness to the table in a series of explosive and magnificently realized Imception-like sequences in the film’s otherwise just adequate finale. In fact, overall, Schwentke shows an accomplished eye at fancy visuals and sharp production design. But fleeting moments of pulsating action and a couple of shiny techno-baubles like these are not enough to forgive the fact that this film is essentially nothing more than a long-winded and boorish stop-gap to the final franchise installment. The actors almost uniformly punch beneath their weight here and with characters that range from ho-hum to being nothing more than on-screen flotsam, there’s nothing to get audiences involved.

A third act plot reveal that the writers were probably hoping to be some major paradigm shift, instead just drags the already silly narrative down to even lower levels of ridiculousness, ensuring that my money probably will not be diverging from my wallet to see another chapter of this story in the future.

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Last Updated: March 19, 2015

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Kervyn Cloete

A man of many passions - but very little sleep - I've been geeking out over movies, video games, comics, books, anime, TV series and lemon meringues as far back as I can remember. So show up for the geeky insight, stay for the delicious pastries.

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