Lost in the crowd

“Insurgent” fails to break away from the pack, phoning in mediocre and unconvincing dystopia.

David Vendrell, Writer

Every few years, a tidal wave trend rocks Hollywood’s impressionable shores. Trying to recapture the success of a first wave that caught everyone by surprise, studios and companies clamor to develop and distribute films that cash in on the zeitgeist.

For the past couple of years, young adult dystopian novels have been the ace in the hole — the hot commodity every agent in Hollywood dreams and salivates over to package for franchise bliss. From “The Hunger Games,” “Divergent” and “The Maze Runner,” there is no shortage of films depicting the world crumbling all around us.

Apocalypse rings this week with “Insurgent,” the second story from the “Divergent” series. Continuing our journey with the divergent Tris and her misfit friends, the city within the walls tries to pick up the pieces after the attack on Abnegation — one of the five factions the population is split into. Jeanine, the malevolent leader of Erudite who orchestrated the attack, finds a mythical box hidden in the home of Tris’ parents, holding the key to society’s future. Difficulty looms when it is discovered that only a Divergent can open it — leading to a murderous manhunt for Tris and the minority like her.

Although revered as a solidly crafted book with an ardent fan base, the filmed version of “Insurgent” fails to jump off the page in almost every way. Lacking mature understanding of cinematic language and believable world building, the sequel looks decidedly unconvincing in almost every frame, providing us an unimaginative form of dystopian Chicago that never feels lived in. Phoning in the nuance of network television, the director uses visuals in order to communicate the broadest and easiest of ideas in the blandest colors and designs imaginable.

Unfortunately, that blandness registers just as grating in the thematic and emotional underpinnings of the story at hand, despite assured performances all across the board. “Insurgent” attempts to raise interesting questions about how personality dictates our behavior, and how fascist powers use strict structuralism and communal identity to wield control. These fascinating questions are only window dressing, constantly pushed to the sidelines or only explored in the most topical ways possible, robbing the source material of thematic depth and biting relevancy — necessities of dystopian art. A shame considering these elements are vital to making the contrived concept interesting.

If you are searching for bold storytelling, ethical questioning or even just moderate entertainment, it may be more beneficial to dust off your copy of Orwell’s “1984” from your high school belongings. “Insurgent” lacks enough story or character development to fill up its two-hour runtime, giving us a movie that is just not divergent enough.

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