There’s a murkiness to The Divergent Series that is utterly baffling. Does it want to be The Hunger Games? While the obvious answer to that question would be “yes” I’m growing less and less sure by the moment. It feels like there was a meeting at some point during the production process where it was decided that they probably couldn’t reach the popularity or, frankly, the quality of The Hunger Games but that they could probably make a great deal of money by making a comparable product. Divergent is the result of that cynical take on filmmaking. Where Catching Fire brought in a new director and turned that franchise from a quick cash-in to a legitimate statement piece of media, Insurgent seems content to collapse under the weight of its own narrative and slouch toward the end of the series confident that it won’t be abandoned by an audience that craves this material.
It seems like Insurgent is trying to live and die on the performance of Shailene Woodley and, honestly, that wasn’t a bad bet to make. Woodley’s performance as Tris is easily the best in the film. Her personal struggles are captivating and her chemistry with co-star Theo James (playing Four) is the only believable relationship depicted in the entire film. While Woodley’s performance is a credit to the film it simply isn’t enough to hide what often seems like a lack of effort. I can’t understand why the second entry in a franchise that will make so much money has such lackluster sets, there’s a trial scene that appears to just be on a soundstage painted black with a metal frame set up. Most of the scenes leading up to the climax take place in a slightly fancier white box. It lacks so much in terms of effort and ambition from a design perspective and often from a directing perspective as the other performances in this film did not get nearly the attention they seemingly gave when coaxing such a transfixing job from Woodley.
I’m heading in to spoiler territory from here on so if you’ve gotten this far but prefer to remain pure it’s time to browse away.