Just after the release of 2014’s The Maze Runner, Saturday Night Live parodied the ever-growing genre of young adult dystopian films with the aptly named The Group Hopper. It was a clever take on how the films — or, specifically, the books on which the movies are based — force people into somewhat random groups in order to survive in a post-apocalyptic world.
Although the genre’s progenitor, The Hunger Games, and its sequels have managed to overcome the inherent faults of the subset, Divergent and especially its sequel, Insurgent, could almost pass for the SNL parody.
Insurgent picks up with hero Tris (Shailene Woodley) on the run with her boyfriend Four (Theo James), her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and her rival Peter (Miles Teller). The five factions of futuristic Chicago — Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless and Erudite — are starting to splinter, and Amity gives the foursome refuge from Erudite and its power-hungry leader, Jeanine (Kate Winslet).
If you have to keep explaining the groups to the audience, chances are you don’t have a very solid story in the first place.
While Divergent had the thrill of discovery of Tris’ divergent skill set, Insurgent attempts to rev things up with the rumblings of war. The trouble is, the story is mostly bluster and little action. The filmmakers want you to believe that Tris and her friends are in constant danger, but the way it plays out, that threat is hardly ever palpable.
With the main quartet now essentially factionless, the story takes great pains to make sure each group that they come across is defined and redefined. However, if you have to keep explaining the groups to the audience, chances are you don’t have a very solid story in the first place.
Also, although it might not affect everybody, having Elgort, Woodley’s love interest in The Fault in Our Stars, and Teller, her love interest in The Spectacular Now, play two of Tris’ key allies can be a bit distracting. Instead of focusing on the particulars of their characters in this film, you might find yourself daydreaming about the unintended cinematic love rectangle of Woodley, James, Elgort and Teller.
As if the story weren’t bad enough, the film’s special effects detract even further from its goal. A third act sequence in which Tris undergoes trials within a computer simulation seem designed to wow with digital trickery. Instead, they’re almost laughable due to the poor computer imagery, which dulls the film’s climax.
The third book in the series, Allegiant, is being split into two films as is the custom with such series nowadays. However, the relatively happy-go-lucky way in which Insurgent ends provides little forward momentum for two more installments, seemingly backing its into a narrative corner.
As youth dystopia films go, Insurgent is lacking on multiple fronts. With an uninteresting story, an unnecessarily confusing structure and competition from similar films, it’s among the weakest in the now-overloaded genre.