Sunday, March 29, 2015

StarBoy91's Theatrical Escapade - Insurgent

Written: March 22nd-23rd, 2015 / Published: March 29th, 2015
Hello everyone, StarBoy91 here; passionate about video games, big retrophile, and fan of all things 16-bit.  So in the same exact week I managed to go from watching one of the most uplifting and enjoyable movies of 2015 (Kenneth Branagh's Cinderella) that rank as one of my top favorites to ... one of the bleakest and middling experiences in theatres so far.  =|  How about that?
Yes, that desaturated look and tone of this banner was done deliberately
Welcome again to my Theatrical Escapade, where in this edition I will talk about the first sequel to last year's Divergent: Insurgent, or as the full title of it goes The Divergent Series: Insurgent (which I saw on the 21st).  Because the Hunger Games movies did the same thing with their titles.
Now before I begin divulging my thoughts on this movie, let's have a brief recap that led up to this.  Before Neil Burger's movie adaptation of Divergent came out in theatres I managed to read all of Veronica Roth's trilogy of books exactly last year; Divergent was the best, Insurgent was okay, and Allegiant sucked in my opinion (I'm really not looking forward to the two-part movie adaptations of it).  When I saw the Neil Burger treatment in theatres I personally thought he did a pretty good job at capturing the narrative (it wasn't the best but it was engaging for what it was), even if there were a few changes here and there, and I didn't think it was as bad as many people made it out to be.  =)
So many months after I saw it I heard that Burger dropped the director role because he was too busy to make the sequel, so for Insurgent (and the two Allegiant movies) another director took his place.  I'm like, "Okay, so they're doing what they did with The Hunger Games: Catching Fire onward when Francis Lawrence took Gary Ross' position".  But when the name of The Divergent Series: Insurgent director was revealed I couldn't help but stare in disbelief: Robert Schwentke.  A director that doesn't have the most positive street cred (try as he might, I'm sure he must be a nice guy, but he doesn't have luck attaining the greatest of accolades),... the same director who lost his mind when he gave us R.I.P.D. in 2013 (seriously, what the hell happened there?).  Now, you cannot possibly go any lower than that, and fortunately Schwentke's Insurgent is better than his previous effort (though that's not such a difficult feat considering R.I.P.D.'s low quality, so really that doesn't say a lot).
Image from Rotten Tomatoes
Rated: PG-13 | Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 | Running Time: 119 Minutes | Directed by: Robert Schwentke
The Divergent Series: Insurgent takes place where Divergent last left off, as Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) and her friends are on the run from Jeanine Matthews' (Kate Winslet) forces because she is a Divergent, a person capable of fitting into all five Factions in dystopian Chicago (Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, Erudite), considered to be a threat because she cannot be controlled.  A mysterious box is soon uncovered containing a well-kept secret that will change the course of everything and it's discovered that only a Divergent can open it.  Tris, deeply upset and remorseful over the loss of her two parents in the previous film (feeling responsible for their deaths), decides that the only way to resolve the chaos is to kill the main source behind it all: Jeanine.  But she'll have to learn to forgive herself if she is to save all the people she's got left to care about, including her boyfriend Four (Theo James).

While Neil Burger's Divergent cut some corners and made some changes in certain areas (particularly during the last third) it at least followed the narrative of the book otherwise, and you can recognize it as such if you've read the book beforehand; not to mention that trimming a four hundred-fifty page-plus book to two and a half hours(ish) allowed its characters and atmosphere to breathe.  Those same attributes sadly do not go hand in hand with the Robert Schwentke-led sequel.  =(

I understand how difficult a task it can be to try to make an adaptation based on a very long book, especially if it's five hundred page-plus novel (like the first Divergent sequel).  I had noticed a running pattern with sequels based on books lately that had them be twenty minutes shorter; while I didn't mind it when it happened to The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, I feel it served as a detriment for Insurgent which is now just two hours in length.  But that's not what makes Insurgent so jarring so much as how it strays so far from the source material it's virtually unrecognizable.

I guess there was reason to raise concern the moment the first trailer was shown months ago, with Tris going to save her mother (Ashley Judd) from a floating, burning building and her performing all those stunts in a dream sequence (which I do not recall from the novel... because it did not happen), but when shown in context it makes sense (even though it doesn't transpire in the written work itself); but it's that very scene which gives you a sense of what you're in for.  There are also other changes, like how Tris' brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) got separated from Tris and Caleb, the way the biggest secret is contained is different, and because so much has been altered structurally it affects the movie as a whole, among other things (including the way some characters are killed off).
Image from Rotten Tomatoes
That's not to say it's all bad, though, as Schwentke managed to create a grim-looking futuristic Chicago with destroyed skyscrapers which looks convincing and it is well shot; which is why I'm glad I stuck with the 2D screening because Summit felt the need to post-convert it to 3D for some reason (even though Divergent was strictly 2D), and you can tell in some scenes with things being so close to the screen.  That was not necessary!

And while I'm on the subject of tone, this is a dark feature; even more so than its predecessor.  At times its got a desaturated look to it, which I suppose comes with the territory considering the dark nature of the story, but it makes it seem bleak and dreary.  There's also gruesome moments which sometimes can be offputting while other times they're neutered down for the teen demographic.

While I admit that I found a purely instrumental soundtrack by Joseph Trapanese rather refreshing in Insurgent (and a good one, at that), I did miss the random song mix of the first film.  Still, the music blends well with the environments, and it complements the tone and atmosphere of Trapanese's respective cues.

The cast is still solid, and some of the newcomers were great choices.  I thought Octavia Spencer as Amity leader Johanna Reyes (with some scars on her face) was apt-selected, and I could believe her as Johanna despite being in the movie for just a few minutes; and Naomi Watts as the Factionless leader Evelyn was really good for she exceeded my expectations (and Naomi looks good with black hair too).  =)

Miles Teller's Peter is a riot this time around, for he manages to steal each scene he's in thanks to the witty delivery of his lines.  It's funny how I went from disliking him in Divergent to actually liking him in this movie, despite playing such an ambiguous role; and it's nice that Teller managed to have fun with his role in Insurgent (when he vocally admitted to feeling "dead" back when filming Divergent).  He's one of the best parts of this movie.
Image from Rotten Tomatoes
Then there's the Divergent herself, Tris Prior.  Shailene Woodley is once again the main highlight of the series for it's easy to find yourself rooting for her, despite the fact that Tris finds herself in some of the most unflattering of situations.  But it's easy to sympathize for her regardless, particularly when she finds herself at her lowest point (including a difficult trial scene proving her innocence to Candor); she's also got that look in her eyes which vividly express that if you get on her bad side she will take you on.  Also, Woodley looks better with short hair, in my opinion.  =)

If there's anything letting this movie down, aside from having to condense five hundred pages' worth of stuff to one-hundred nineteen minutes and changing stuff here and there to satisfy moviegoers' expectations, it's the fact that there's no sense of character development like there was in the book.  You don't really learn anything new about the characters we were introduced to in Neil Burger's flick, which is too bad because had there been more scenes it would've aided the film version of Insurgent significantly.  Let's hope that when it comes out on DVD and Blu-Ray there are outtakes and deleted scenes which expanded on some scenes and/or characters.

Another downside is how some characters are left in the background while a few I only wished stayed in the background.  One of my least favorite elements of the trilogy when I read them was Tris' brother Caleb, who was basically the kind of douchebag who doesn't realize he's a douchebag and is hopelessly blinded by it, which makes him unlikable to me.  Ansel Elgort has got the look that only helps amplify Caleb's unlikability factor, so you'll forgive me if I feel nothing for him (with all the changes that were made here, I'll be happy if the Allegiant movies cut him out entirely).  There's also Kate Winslet's Jeanine, who really only appears in a handful of scenes and doesn't play a big role until the third act, but even then she's not as imposing as she was in Divergent.

Some scenes, when I read them in the book, came out as I pictured (like the interrogation scene with Tris and Four and the enemy storming of the Candor Faction), but others I felt could've used either touching up or was let down by (one of the enemies is offed PG-13 style, and don't get me wrong: it happened in the book, but I imagined it to be more gruesome and less censored than that).  Also, obligatory YA PG-13 sex scene, because why not (even though it didn't happen in the book)?
The Divergent Series: Insurgent is a bit of a letdown as a follow-up to Divergent (which I honestly thought was solid), but there are still things to like about it, and it's partly saved by Shailene Woodley's performance and realistic-looking dystopian future.  I normally don't mind changes from the source material so long as a movie follows the gist of the narrative, and I would not have minded Insurgent's changes so much had it developed its characters more and stayed true to the gist of its story.  But hey, you can't have it all with movies like these.
Take all that away, and basically I thought Insurgent was okay (but not in the same level as the book).  If you watched Divergent and ended up not liking it I'm afraid this movie isn't going to change your mind, for it's a step down in quality; but if you did like Neil Burger's film you might get something out of Robert Schwentke's Insurgent, but I can't guarantee whether you'll like it or not... and definitely watch it in 2D if you give it a chance.  And hey, look on the bright side: at least it was more sensible and competently made than R.I.P.D. was.
My Personal Score: 3/5
Next March Schwentke will return to direct The Divergent Series: Allegiant Part 1.  It's my least favorite of the trilogy, and taking into account the array of changes made to Insurgent I've a feeling that that same might befall the two movies based on Allegiant.  All I have to say is that if Schwentke manages the impossible and makes Allegiant passable or even good, I'll have a whole new respect for him, but in the meantime this is what we've got.
I want to thank you for reading my honest Theatrical Escapade thoughts on this movie, so please leave me a comment and let me know whether you agree with me or not.  Until next time, I'm StarBoy91, and may your day shine brightly!  =)
<(^o^)^TO EACH THEIR OWN^(^o^)>

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