What I Knew Going In / What I Was Expecting
What's this? A high profile movie on my dumbass blog?
Yup, I decided it was about time that I dived headfirst into something more modern and successful than the usual direct-to-video sequels that nobody gives a shit about, so this week I decided to watch Insurgent. And in typical I Got Here Late fashion, I'm not sure where it falls in the series. I'm pretty sure it's just the second one and that a third is due later this year, but I don't have the time to follow movie news anymore and I can't be bothered to look it up.
What I know for sure is that it's based on a young adult dystopian novel series that's about a special snowflake girl who works with a group of rebels to bring down a government that preaches conformity. I don't know the specifics beyond that.
My guess is that the first one involved the main character taking some kind of exam like those President's Fitness Evaluations we used to have to do in elementary school (side note - do they still do those?). They tested her as being "Divergent," which means she doesn't fit into the caste system that the government's instituted. She was going to be taken out to a field and shot in the head or something, but then a handsome guy rescued her and now he and Divergent are trying to bring down the system with a bunch of other outcasts who've formed their own idyllic paradise somewhere.
And I guess there's like some shitty religious preaching, too? I'm not 100% on that, but somebody told me the original novelist is a fundie, so maybe the outcasts are the way they are because they're filled with Jesus Love, and it sets off the caste sensors or something.
That doesn't sound like very much plot, though, so I'm not sure how you get more than one movie out of it. I guess maybe they blew up a military post or something and it was a minor victory, but then Divergent's mentor was Kenobied and it ended on a bittersweet note where she doesn't know what to do next. If that's the case, and assuming Insurgent is Part 2, I'm going to guess they're about to discover some Mega Weapon and they have to either keep it from falling into the government's hands or steal it from the government in order to enact Phase 3 of their cunning plan. And I don't know, maybe Divergent is falling in love with the handsome guy from Part 1 and they're about to kiss for the first time. But they keep getting interrupted at the last minute by happenstance, and it's really funny.
The Actual Plot Summary
So, there's a magic box of some sort. Nobody knows what it is or what it does, but it's important.
The evil empress of everything, whose name is.Jeanine, for fuck's sake, is trying to get the magic box because somehow it will enable her to make the world "better." What that entails, I don't know.
Which kinda makes me just say "no shit" since Jeanine blew up one of the five (six?) pillars of her society. Of course your society is imploding, you idiot. That's like if you slashed one of the tires of your car and then you were like, "Why isn't this working? I better go get some amethyst and honey to get the spirits to guide me through this."
But, whatever. All of that is just back story. When the movie opens, Jeanine's goons have found the magic box, and she's all excited for something of nebulous consequence to happen.
Meanwhile, Divergent, her love-buddy Four, her goon-buddy Miles Teller, and her (possible?) brother Caleb are all hanging out in Amity, which appears to be the agricultural section of the city. They're trying to lay low, but they each keep getting pissy about things because they're idiot children and don't know what laying low means. Divergent draws a knife on Miles Teller and eventually government stooges invade, so they all have to go on the run again.
They hop on a train to escape from the stooges, but unfortunately the train is full of a whole bunch of other assholes who hate them for reasons unknown. I'm not sure whether these guys also failed the faction test or if they're just rebels or what the deal is, but they hate Divergent because it's their train, dammit. So they all fight, and then Four says, "Wait, my name is Tobias, and I'm actually the son of the Rebel Leader." That's good enough for them, so they make amends and go hang out at the Rebel Base.
Here we meet Four's mom, who is played by an incredibly young looking Naomi Watts. She looks so young, in fact, that at first I was going to post a joke here about how she looks even younger than Four and maybe they should be lovers instead of mother and son, but then I looked it up on IMDb and found out that Theo James is my age and Naomi Watts is 47, which I still have a hard time believing. I guess this was actually age-appropriate casting. For one of them, anyway. What the fuck are you doing playing a 19 year-old, Theo?
Anyway, they mope around and Divergent gets the idea into her head that in order to clear her name, she needs to go to Candor, which is like the Justice Department, I guess. So they do. Except for Caleb and Miles Teller. I don't remember exactly when they leave the story, but it is of no consequence whatsoever, so who cares.
At Candor, Divergent and Four go on trial for the bombing of Abnegation, and they are doped up with Truth Serum. The judge finds them not guilty and they all hang out. There's briefly a conflict here because Divergent also admitted to killing Will, who I guess was a friend of a friend or something, but murder is not a crime and this admission of guilt is quickly forgotten. One of Divergent's friends who knew Will is upset by the news, but seems to get over it quickly and they never speak of it again. So, that's a wrap on Will guilt, everyone. Glad we bothered to introduce this whole concept in the first place. (This thing's two hours long, by the way. Will's not even in it, and he still padded it out by a solid ten minutes.)
Then we cut back to LORD JEANINE THE DESTROYER, who is trying to open the magic box. It seems the only way to open it is to hook people up to some VR simulation equipment that tests their capacity for each of the factions, and they have to pass all five (six?) tests. Unfortunately, everybody keeps dying after - or even before - the first because nobody's that good at everything...
Unless... say, unless being Divergent makes you special! Yeah, of course!
Turns out Divergent is the only super special person in the world that can open the box, so JEANINE THE BLOODLETTER sends more goons out to Candor to kidnap her. There's a big dumb action sequence that takes way too long and has a lot of garbage in it, but the upshot is this: a bunch of innocent people get shot with little neural-implant things that allow JEANINE THE EYESPLITTER to control their minds from a distance. With this technology, she threatens to make people commit suicide unless Divergent gives herself up.
So... she does.
Divergent goes to JEANINE THE DOGKICKER's headquarters and gets strapped into the VR equipment and starts passing all the tests flawlessly, because she's the best. Briefly Caleb and Miles Teller come back, but they don't actually functionally do anything except for play out the cliched "pretend to fight so we can surprise the bad guys" thing and help Divergent escape, but even that doesn't functionally do anything in the story because Divergent immediately says, "No, I have to finish the tests," and she just goes right back to the stupid VR equipment to finish using it. So, again, thanks for introducing all these wonderful concepts, Insurgent, you're really making great use of my patience here. And to think, I thought I might be wasting my fucking time watching you.
Anyway, Divergent opens the magic box, and it just has a video tape inside from a blue lady who says, "Humanity has issues so we made your city as a convoluted experiment, but if somebody opened the box, that means you have Divergents now, and those are cool. So, you can leave the city now. Peace." And something.
Divergent's feeling pretty smug about this and rubs it in JEANINE THE TOOTHPULLER's face. JEANINE THE SCROTEGUTTER demands that the box be destroyed so she can retain power, but before her goons can do anything, Four's mom shows up and rescues them.
That seriously happens. The day is saved when the protagonist's boyfriend's mom comes to pick them up from their date. I hate this movie.
There's a montage of people joyously leaving the city for the promise of a new life and you think the movie might end with that, but the very last shot is of Four's mom shooting Jeanine in the back of the head. The End.
What I Liked
Not a whole lot. I'm trying not to be an asshole about this, but I really did not enjoy this movie. Usually when I'm in this position, I take this time to be nice and pay lip service to the stuff that didn't totally suck, so here goes:
Nice job, crew. You guys work hard, I'm sure. Sound guy? I think you coulda taken a little more time to make the dialogue audible, but otherwise, the movie looks and sounds okay. I guess.
What I Didn't Like
How much time do you have?
Listen, I don't want to be a jerk and shit all over your parade if you're the kind of person this movie was meant for. Maybe you were a huge fan of the books and maybe this is terribly exciting for you now, so that's cool. I hope you had a good time with it and you shouldn't let a curmudgeonly old doof like me ruin your day.
But when you get older, you're going to rewatch this and feel really, really silly. I hate to break it to you. But you will.
There's so many problems with this movie that I only have the time and patience to cover the most egregious. The first would have to be stark, relentless self-importance of it all. This is a movie with superficial conflicts that could just have fun with its concept and have a laugh once in awhile, but instead it's so dour and serious about everything. When you're this absurd and stupid, you can't afford to be that serious.
You know how when you're 16 and you think it's so unfair that, say, censorship sometimes happens, and so you make a big stink about it and get really indignant and make huge, impassioned speeches to your teachers and parents about the first amendment? And at the time, you probably think you're really clever and blowing our minds. But what you don't realize is that when you huff out of the room and leave us alone, we all break out laughing. Because you're just so young and naive that you really have no concept of what true censorship is, or why it exists, or how to effectively combat it. You're just some punk kid who's getting all riled up and we just kinda think it's cute, but nothing to pay much attention to. That's Insurgent's core.
Everything about it so stiff and rigid and formal and full of itself to the point where people can't even address each other without invoking the names of their factions in every sentence. It's so overblown, and yet no matter how much grandeur they try to instill, its vapidity always seeps through. Hell, just look at the names of the factions: Amity, Erudite, fucking Abnegation. If you're making a movie where your society is so simplistic that they want to boil people down to a single behavioral type and segregate them into colonies that are also named after said quality, why would you go to the effort of giving those qualities hoity-toity names?
If I have to look up words in a dictionary just to understand the basic concepts of your movie, that doesn't make you clever and me stupid. It just makes you a bad writer.
There's actually one line of dialogue that is perfectly emblematic of all this. Somebody asks Daniel Dae Kim a question, and he gestures a bit, then says, "The answer is yes." Instead of just saying, "Yes," which is totally appropriate for the context and sounds way more like a human is saying it, they padded it out to four fucking words and five fucking syllables. You don't need to get flowery, bra. Just say "Yes." That's what adults do, because we don't have time or patience to fuck around and be serious all day.
Worse: I never have a good sense of anybody's motivation in a way that makes me actually give a shit. I know part of this is my own fault for watching mid-way through the story, but it's also a fault of the movie for not giving clear stakes. Other epics and trilogies manage to do this without a bunch of garbage - Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Back to the Future.... Even if you haven't seen the first one, you can at least feel like there's a reason to root for the hero and to fear the villain. You don't need to have seen Back to the Future Part 1 to know that the alternate timeline Biff Tannen creates in Part 2 is a shit hole.
Insurgent never gives us a moment where the hero wanders something like the Biffverse. All we get is a magic box that nobody can explain. If you're going to make a magic box the crux of your movie, you don't just throw it in there while everybody shrugs and goes, "I dunno, but I guess it's important." You explain that shit because that's how stories work.
The acting is almost universally terrible, which pains me to say because I don't like picking on actors. I know that sometimes you get a shitty script and you just have to struggle with it and make it work the best you can, so my heart goes out to them. But nobody looks like they want to be in this movie. Kate Winslet frankly looks embarrassed, although I'm sure she's enjoying her new yacht.
And Shailene Woodley? I don't think I've ever seen such bad casting. I've never seen Woodley in anything else and I imagine she's probably really good in some performances - maybe something a little bit bubblier or maybe snarkier. She just isn't a good badass, which is what they're trying to tell us Divergent is. There are never any moments where she doesn't look awkward or like she's just posturing. Every time she curls her lips or throws a punch, she just looks like my younger sister got mad at me for eating the last slice of pizza.
Perhaps the grossest part of the movie, though - and here's where I start really sounding like an old man - is its lack of good morals. I think Insurgent wants to inspire kids to be independent thinkers and question leadership when it is at odds with humane treatment of people, but the main message it actually says is that if you're not a super special snowflake like Divergent, don't bother.
Listen. Heroes aren't special because of who they are. They're special because of what they do. Passing a blood test and being told your special doesn't mean a goddamn thing. You want to be a hero? Go do something good. Don't do it because you think you'll get a reward, because you probably won't. Don't even do it because you think you'll succeed, because there's always a good chance you won't. Do it because it's the right thing to do. That makes you a hero. That's the model you should aspire to, kids.
Divergent isn't a hero. She's just some brat who opened a box and cried about it.
Beyond that, it's absurdly violent. People are dismembered, strangled to death, knifed in the gut, and otherwise horribly murdered. It even ends with Four's mom - supposedly the Good Leader - shooting Jeanine in the back of the head, execution-style, and this is played up as if it's the punchline on a joke or a "you go, girl!" moment instead of a really horrifying act of brutality. What kind of movie tells you to question brutal leadership and then ends this way?
One last minor complaint before I wrap up, because this one really irked the shit out me: why is everyone calling Jeanine "Jeanine?" If you're the all-powerful Lord of Destruction, nobody's on a first-name basis with you. They address you as "Chancellor" or "Your Highness" or "Almighty One" or, at the very least, your surname. What, was Jeanine's last name Borkenmeister or something and you decided that this was the better option?
I hated this movie.
Would I Recommend It?
What I Think the Prequel(s) Was/Were About
Divergent fingers herself while Four tells her how amazing she is and then a fucking bomb goes off. Who gives a shit?
My Pitch For Another One
How about they all die of toxic gas poisoning the minute they set foot outside the wall? Make it a five-minute short and I'll pay good money to see it.