The latest chapter in the Divergent series is a film of two halves. The first has all the appeal of wandering around one of those abandoned concrete-filled cities due for demolition.
Greyness abounds. Grey skies, grey suits, grey landscapes of steel and stone. Grey people. Grey dialogue. In short, 50 shades of meh.
Things pick up half way through. My pending sleepiness avoided by Matrix-style action scenes in which mousey, likeable heroine Tris (Shailene Woodley) wracked with personal doubt, tortured by demons, sporting a pixie haircut, chases after her mum in a stone cube. It’s reminiscent of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, but as is the way with all CG dream sequences, lacks any real danger and looks utterly fake.
While Tris is the glue that holds the movie together, the whole thing comes unstuck many times.
In one scene, Four (hunky Theo James) meets his mum Evelyn (Naomi Watts), who looks about two years older than him. In reality she’s 46, he’s early thirties, so it’s feasible, but blimey Naomi. Have you got a Dorian Gray-style painting in your attic?
Anyway, Four and Tris are loved up, following the ’will they won’t they?’ arc of film one, most of which I’d forgotten after a year of better movies. It was hard to remember who was who, with the exception of the lead protagonists and antagonists.
Kate Winslet was glacially cool as the despotic ruler whose exposition-heavy intro coloured in many of the grey areas for newcomers. For the rest of the movie a mannequin in a blue dress with a photo of Kate’s face stuck on would have sufficed.
The one real plus is Whiplash’s Miles Teller as Peter, the Judas character who comes across as a young, snarky John Cusack. He provides the only laughs in the movie. And that’s one of the many problems. Insurgent is so serious it hurts. There’s no levity in this austere world. Yes, we get it: the proscenium is horrible, but humour is crucial to alleviate the tension, and here it’s so miserable it’s hard to care for any of the characters.
The movie opens with our renegade heroes at a hippy commune in a forest. Kevin McCloud would love the Amity house, with its beautiful beams and gorgeous staircase. When you start admiring a house more than the characters, something is seriously wrong.
The earth mother character in the first act looks like she stepped from The Matrix, an Oracle sort who provides a little tension before the generic evil guys turn up on their spotless trucks. These vehicles are as capable of repelling dirt as the characters’ costumes are. Seriously, they jump from trains, roll around, get into scrapes and there’s not a mark on them. (In the real world, I can’t go more than a few hours without spilling tomato ketchup or tea on my white tee shirts).
So the movie plods along, lurching from action scene to heartfelt confessional to plodding bad guys to Tris mumbling something incoherent while looking like a miffed prom queen who’s been sent to her room.
There’s an unintentionally hilarious moment in the third act when her bed head hair out acts her after she’s mumbled something dull.
I get that I’m not the target audience: teenage girls who loved Veronica Roth’s YA saga. I also wasn’t the target audience for Maze Runner and loved that, though at times I wasn’t sure where that movie ended and this one began. The YA movie world seems to be one big playground with the same generic characters running around. If Tris had to enter a deadly labyrinth for film three, I wouldn’t be surprised.
Oh, and there’s no fat people in Insurgent. Everyone clearly streamlined from lack of food, lots of running around and making their own clothes which look like they’re off the peg… but unironed.
And oh the crowd scenes! Awful. A supporting cast mumbling incoherent “yays” or “nays”, acting as a mass instead of individuals. Weta’s CG crowd generation programe ’Massive’ creates more realistic scenes; a shame they didn’t use it.
By the time Insurgent rumbled to the (great) closing titles I felt, like Hunger Games (another good YA franchise) had been ruined by the tricky bridging sequel, linking film one to the full-on finale (no doubt split into two movies).
I’ve seen worse movies, but I do wonder if staring at a bottle of detergent for 90 mins would have been more fun.