Though weighed down by the “wheel-spinning” narrative, the all-too-familiar tropes of Young Adult dystopias, and that truly awkward title, Shailene Woodley remains in critics’ good graces after her assertive turn in “The Divergent Series: Insurgent.”
Currently managing only a 29% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the second installment in Summit’s planned four-part franchise, adapted from Veronica Roth’s blockbuster YA novels, otherwise has reviewers suffering an acute case of genre fatigue. Following on the heels of “The Hunger Games” and “Maze Runner,” the tale of youth in revolt against their futuristic society’s rigid caste system does little to test the boundaries of convention, according to critics, despite solid work from Woodley and an all-star supporting cast that includes Theo James, Kate Winslet, Octavia Spencer, Miles Teller, and Ansel Elgort.
Whether “Insurgent,” directed by Robert Schwentke, treads water because of its location in the overarching narrative or because the narrative is itself overdetermined depends on which review one reads, but several critics voice concern that the series’ box office hopes may have dimmed with the proliferation of similar YA yarns. (The first film, “Divergent,” grossed $289 million worldwide.) Excerpts below:
Peter Debruge, Variety: “Considering that ‘Insurgent’ is meant to represent the series’ great civil war, it all comes across feeling like a tempest in a teapot: a glorified rehash of what came before, garnished with the promise of what lies in store.”
Sheri Linden, The Hollywood Reporter: “There’s no question that [‘Insurgent’] is a leaner, meaner affair than its predecessor. That’s not enough, though, to counterbalance the often oppressive self-seriousness (though Miles Teller gives it a welcome shot) or to plaster over the holes in the premise.”
Robbie Collin, The Telegraph: “[W]hile its lead actress is a force to be reckoned with, Insurgent is certainly no ‘Alien’—nor a ‘Hunger Games,’ nor a ‘Maze Runner.’ Instead, it plays like a listless mash-up of every Young Adult franchise movie you’ve ever seen—domineering rulers, anguished, system-smashing teens, and all the purposeful striding through rubble you can handle.”
Alonso Duralde, The Wrap: “[T]ake everything annoying about a cobbled-together, overly familiar YA adaptation, add the built-in wheel-spinning of a sequel, and you’ve got ‘Insurgent,’ a film that works best when it places its heroine inside virtual-reality situations—at least then it has an excuse for eschewing logic and context.”
John Hazelton, Screen Daily: “Like other middle parts of trilogies, the film spends more time spinning out or setting up story points than delivering them. And, in its first two acts, it makes few concessions to casual viewers who may not recall the details of Tris’ world laid out in the first film. The story gets more emotionally engaging in the final act, as Schwentke (taking over from ‘Divergent”s Neil Burger and best known for ‘RED’ and ‘Flightplan’) gives the proceedings a Kubrickian sci-fi sheen that contrasts nicely with the antagonism between Tris and Jeanine.”