Sunday, March 29, 2015

Insurgent

This review is spoiler-free.

The training is over, and the real fight has just begun for Tris Prior. She worked so hard to become one of the best of the new Dauntless recruits, but now all that means nothing; she doesn't belong to any faction anymore, but along with her Dauntless friends has been branded an insurgent and is being hunted by the rest of the Dauntless who have joined forces with Erudite and Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet). But never mind that Tris barely got to be Dauntless before she was kicked out -- all that training is about to come in handy anyway.

She also picked up a useful fashion sense in Dauntless.

As she will always be, Shailene Woodley remains the best and most captivating thing about this franchise. When all else fails it is her face, and her performance that holds your interest. Her Tris has regal grace and strength, but can still convince us that she's a teenage girl, and her inner struggles with fear and forgiveness and self-loathing don't seem too petty coming from her so sincerely. With just a few looks she gives quiet depth to a character I found lacking while reading her every thought on the page.

Romantic co-star Theo James is Four -- mostly just around for his good looks and even better fighting skills this time, without much else to do. But still he is not without his charms, and while there's not much praise to give him, there isn't anything bad to say either. Previous-romantic-co-star number one, Ansel Elgort, as Tris' brother Caleb gets to prove why he was cast as Ansel Elgort this time, but still you can tell he's just setting up for the big stuff in Allegiant. Still the more screen time was welcome, and everything was set up really well.

Four's cool. Caleb runs funny.

My personal favorite (and previous-romantic-co-star number two) continues to be Miles Teller's Peter. Peter is the only character who I fully understand yet is still interesting enough to pay attention to. He's a fun antagonist, and the only one of this series. Every time he came on screen I could literally feel the weight of the movie lift with his lightening, less-serious presence.

In fact this movie's main downfall was the seriousness. Divergent, while still serious at its core, had an easy-going fun-to-watch element flowing though everything that happened. Insurgent, well, with the war games, zip-lining, and making friends being over with -- Insurgent just forgot to have fun. (Peter's the only one who remembered because he's the only one who just doesn't care.) There was a lot of heaviness, and not much at all to balance it out. Fortunately it could have been considerably worse -- while heavy and nearly unrelenting, at least all the serious drama was done well. Being at the core of the story and its drama, Tris and Woodley get the credit again for keeping it all afloat. Also worth mentioning is that I'm sure I'll be less bothered by this smallish problem when I see it the second time.

Oh boy. The bf and the ex-bf are going at it again...

That could also apply pretty well to the second and final problem this movie was hit with -- unfocused plotting. Not that plot events didn't make sense, but as a whole it didn't seem to know what it wanted to concentrate on. It was like a loopy little bee, flying in circles, trying to figure out which flower to land on compared with the simple, detailed and straightforward mapping of the first movie. I read the book, but still spent too much time trying to figure out where we were and what was important.

I guess you could say having read the book was actually unhelpful, since the plot was rearranged and simplified quite a bit. Since it is simpler, and more memorable, I prefer the film's version, but being simplified (not to mention having the middle-chapter syndrome) gave it extra time to deal with. Some of that time was used interestingly, but Tris' time-filling dreams got old fast -- especially with the later simulations having the same flavor.

"Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?"

The most fun this movie has is in the action scenes. Nothing particular about them stuck out at me, but overall they kept me more engaged than I was otherwise. So you can imagine what my favorite parts must have been -- places that had some fun fighting, plus fun-adding Peter involved. That one early scene at Amity was great. Hand to hand action was always good, but occasionally there was big, visual, or "action" stuff that didn't do much besides go pointlessly over the top -- mostly in sims, but sometimes elsewhere. And that last obviously CG shot of people from a distance? Not good.

Without the "wow" effect of a new dystopian world for us to wrap our minds around, Insurgent tries hard to make up for it with twists and turns, bigger fights and higher stakes. Some shots missed -- some of those seem like blind shots in the dark for any moral dilemma or twist in character an audience might find compelling without ever following up on them. And some shots hit the target. Those were mostly physical things you could see on the screen, like a performance that is compelling because the actor made it so, or an old-fashioned hand to hand showdown, or complex character relationships and motivations beginning to unfold.

Like Tris, this franchise isn't perfect, but it's going keep on fighting.

Or the simple reason we are drawn to these kinds of stories in the first place -- to watch a small, underpowered group of people passionately, dauntlessly standing up and fighting for what is right, when there's almost nothing left in the world worth standing up for.

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