Movie Mondays: INSURGENT Review

I would be remiss if I didn’t review INSURGENT, since I’ve posted before about reading the series by Veronica Roth and my admiration of some of her choices.  However, with time, the appeal of both the series and the movie franchise has lost some of its appeal. I’ll probably need to see INSURGENT again to have a clearer grasp on what I think, but my overall reaction was…eh.  For an action movie, this was pretty anti-climatic and undercut the major revelations that serve the books better.

I thought the first movie, the adaptation of DIVERGENT, made story/character choices that made more sense than the book, and I applauded the screenwriters for doing so.  For example, when Four takes Tris through his fear landscape: in the book, it’s more of a “I want you to get to know me better” moment, but in the movie it’s a way for Tris to train and evade those looking for divergents and, as a bonus, she gets to know Four better.  I thought it was smoother, more logical, and better overall.  Roth’s series can be convoluted, even within a convoluted genre!

With INSURGENT, more changes have been made in the screen adaptation and I just don’t know what to think about them.  I thought the movie had a weak opening.  Jeanine, the leader from Erudite, makes a public announcement that there are dangerous divergents in their midst who orchestrated the attack on Abnegation.  Tris dreams of seeking sanctuary in Amity only to find guns pointed at her.  She wakes up to the pastoral beauty and mopes around wondering what to do, but with the public announcement, wouldn’t everyone in Amity be a little concerned that the four strangers who arrived all bloody and freaked out were maybe part of the problem?  Nothing made sense.  And the leader of Amity, Johanna, was vastly different than she was in the book.  It set me on edge and I ended up thinking my way through the movie instead of enjoying it because it was just the first of many changes that left me wondering, “Is this better for the story?  Better for the characters?”  I’m not sure that it is/was.  And I think those answers will only be answered by how the movie franchise wraps up the series in ALLEGIANT.  Since that was the least-liked book of the series for most people, and I agree it was the weakest in terms of writing, I imagine there are more changes to come.

Unlike with the changes in DIVERGENT, the changes made in INSURGENT weakened the overall premise.  This middle book is supposed to be about civil war and the Factionless rising up against the oppressive Faction system and leaders, like Jeanine.  But instead, the movie focused solely on Tris and her need to kill Jeanine and Jeanine’s need for a divergent to open this secret message box.  It flattened the story, it took away from the revelation that Four was the son of the Factionless leader Evelyn – which in the book becomes a huge source of power.  The death of Eric is also somewhat anticlimactic.  The story glossed over Tris’s brother’s betrayal and even though it shows Tris’s need to sacrifice her own life in order to save everyone else – that action in the movie was not well motivated (not that it’s terribly well motivated in the book either) and ended up not having much dramatic or narrative impact.  The biggest anti-climax came in the opening of the secret message box telling everyone that they were part of an experiment and they are now free to go.

Holy shit balls!  Everyone goes prancing off into the sunset and I was just like “No one’s freaking out here?”  In the book, the Faction leaders knew this great mystery and Jeanine is trying to suppress it in order to maintain control and Evelyn doesn’t know about it and feels threatened by this new information.  Even though I think keeping it a secret from everyone is probably a better narrative device, it didn’t have any resonance in the movie.

Did I enjoy this movie?  Yes, of course.  I’m pretty easy, honestly.  It had a lot of action, more so than in DIVERGENT, and I thought that made it move along well.  Shailene Woodley is so god-damn pretty.  I love watching her on screen.  And yes, she emotes and cries, and her voice does that scratchy squeaky thing that would be heartbreaking if it didn’t happen all the time.  But pretty doesn’t make a movie, and right now, that’s all this franchise is serving up.  Maybe that’s a problem with the source material, but this isn’t TWILIGHT, there’s a lot more to develop and use.

One of the best phrases in this series, which was cut out entirely from INSURGENT even though it serves as a major emotional twist is “Be Brave.”  The filmmakers were anything but.