REVIEW: Insurgent [2015]

Score: 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 119 minutes | Release Date: March 20th, 2015 (USA)
Studio: Lionsgate
Director(s): Robert Schwentke
Writer(s): Brian Duffield, Akiva Goldsman, and Mark Bomback / Veronica Roth (novel)

“You have to forgive yourself”

I don’t know which of the three writers credited (Brian Duffield, Akiva Goldsman, and Mark Bomback) on Insurgent is responsible for the complete overhaul of Veronica Roth‘s source novel, but I applaud him. If not for the retention of its characters’ arcs, one could argue the majority of this cinematic version is a wholly original work. Ultimately, however, Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four’s (Theo James) progression within the confines of a scorched Chicago is what gives Insurgent its identity. We as an audience and fans of Roth’s saga should embrace any metamorphosis that still respects its vision because film and literature are very disparate art forms. The finished piece benefits from each altered detail into a more visual-friendly format as well as every compression point of plot helping keep a long story coherent at only two hours.

Cara is gone (probably for good since her purpose as Will’s sister is rendered moot and her position in Allegiant can be cannibalized); Marcus (Ray Stevenson) and Joanna (Octavia Spencer) are onscreen for maybe fifteen minutes (problematic on the surface considering their actions to come, but nothing that can’t be retrofitted in the next installment); and replacing them is a newly crafted puzzle surrounding the mysterious information born from Faction Founders that Abnegation protected and Jeanine’s (Kate Winslet) Erudite sought to discover. Contained in a box only a Divergent can open, the truth of its secrets lie behind the tests of each Faction simulation. This is why Jeanine needs Tris-the key-and a workaround to omit the novel’s entire climax. Surprisingly, due to these changes’ efficacy, what’s missing actually proves better on the cutting room floor.

Does this mean the film is better than the book? No. But let’s be honest, the books aren’t the best-written examples of fiction in the world. While I enjoyed the scope of what Roth achieved more than Suzanne Collins‘ thesis in The Hunger Games, the latter dystopian trilogy was definitely the more assured piece of literature. Roth infused too much petty angst for my liking-although it probably plays great for its target demographic of young adult readers-and the filmmakers’ ability to streamline plot allows them to excise a lot of this bloat. For example, Four is no longer the adversarial, selfish brat who rejects taking a position of leadership yet continuously ignores the sound opinions of those around him. His fatal mistakes in the book so Tris can have “I told you so” moments are exhausting.

The screenwriters remove that and make Four a reasonable young man who not only loves his girlfriend, but respects her too. There isn’t a fight brewing between them for days because a Hollywood blockbuster can’t afford so much downtime from the action. Director Robert Schwentke wields this faster pace to perfection and creates a rousing adventure in its wake. Divergent was a pretty faithful adaptation, but it was a slog as a result. Everyone involved on Insurgent acknowledged this and did their best to ensure they didn’t make the same mistakes. While a book can spend its duration trying to acquire “information” within multiple medium-sized conflicts, a film needs more excitement distilled into large events. Manufacturing the puzzle box and its hallucinatory tests shrouded in computer generated squalor and beauty is just the thing to do it.

Besides watching Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and Peter (Miles Teller) transform from the stereotypical white and black hats they are respectively in the original film into complicated, three-dimensional human beings, Insurgent‘s only real purpose is to reveal what lies beyond the walls of their Chicago and to introduce a new figure of power in Naomi Watts‘ Factionless leader Evelyn. Everything else is filler. So you whittle away at that excess, merge multiple raids into one giant assault, remove most of the over-wrought PTSD agony running throughout the book, and deliver their outcomes in as concise a manner as possible. All that internalized stuff is cool on the page since we can listen to Tris’ personal monologues. Onscreen we simply understand it through her tears and watch it resolve through her strength and love for her friends.

We get exactly what’s needed for this bridge story to exist as entertainment. It’s nothing without what comes before and after, so the filmmakers must at least provide something we can enjoy. They do so by choreographing some great fight scenes like Tris, Four, and Caleb battling Jonny Weston‘s Edgar (a new character taking Edward’s place since he was cut from Divergent) and the Factionless. The orchestration of the Erudite-sympathizing Dauntless invasion on Candor is a great set-piece too and the film’s most accurate to the source. Think of Insurgent as a sort of greatest hits from the book devoid of the overly emotional psychology that oftentimes derailed its momentum. After all, what better way for Tris to forgive herself than by retreating into her own mind to relive the pain in spectacular CGI fashion?

This synthetic experience to open the Founders’ Box becomes the centerpiece of the film due to its solution revealing the truth of the world as well as its ability to force Tris into facing her guilt. I find it extremely cool that something completely made-up in context to the source material can be so effective at getting us to the story’s end on film in a way the original trajectory couldn’t. It really is a prime example of just how varied art can and should be from alternate versions of itself formed within different mediums. Not everything on the page translates perfectly and, in the grand scheme of things, a screenwriter’s job is to be true to his cinematic audience while catering that truth to author intent. Insurgent succeeds at doing exactly that.

[1] Four (Theo James, left), Peter (Miles Teller, center), and Tris (Shailene Woodley, right) in THE DIVERGENT SERIES: INSURGENT. Photo Credit: Andrew Cooper
[2] Naomi Watts stars as ‘Evelyn’ in THE DIVERGENT SERIES: INSURGENT. Photo Credit: Andrew Cooper
[3] Edgar (Jonny Weston, left) and Four (Theo James, right) in THE DIVERGENT SERIES: INSURGENT. Photo Credit: Andrew Cooper

One Thought to “REVIEW: Insurgent [2015]”

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