The Divergent Series: Insurgent

Director: Robert Schwentke (2015)

Welcome back to the future for the glossy second instalment of the dystopian action adventure quadrilogy.

Renegade heroine Tris returns to face a series of tests – but the biggest threat to success is herself.

Containing all the strengths and weaknesses of the first film, it balances handsome design and two great female performances with indifferent dialogue, silly stunts and a tiresome abundance of teenage posturing.

The decaying walled city is beautifully realised and accompanying uniforms, guns, trucks and technology are all heavily convincing.

Beginning where the last film ended, we’re quickly brought up to speed on the story before being thrust into the action.

Society is divided into five factions, each with it’s own role. Tris (Shailene Woodley) qualifies for more than one faction and therefore as a Divergent she is considered a threat to society.

Tris and her brother Caleb (Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort) are now outlaws. They’re hiding in the peaceful pastoral faction of Amity along with her boyfriend Tobias and friend Peter (Theo James and Miles Teller). It’s a creepy commune of niceness.

Guilt-ridden over her parent’s death, Tris suffers nightmares and scalps her hair in a self-harming act of penance. Her self-prescribed therapy for her anger is to take plenty of physical punishment through the film.

Back in the city, evil Erudite leader Jeanine (Kate Winslet) has obtained a box containing secrets that belonged to Tris’s mother.

In order to unlock it’s secrets, victims have black suspension cables plugged into them and are put into a dream-state. In this condition they have to pass five tests – one for each Faction.

We see their subconscious go maximum Inception with exploding digital buildings galore – and death in their dream means they die for real.

Realising only a Divergent will possess the qualities to open it, Jeanine sends sneering Dauntless commander Eric Coulter (Jai Courtney) to hunt down the renegades. She is convinced Tris is the best candidate and is determined to capture her.

His crack troops no know fear, no danger and no tactics – they can’t see a wall without abseiling down it and striking ferocious moonlit action poses. There’s lots of train-hopping action but despite a lot of fighting, there’s a general absence of blood or bruises.

Chased by Dauntless, the four split up. Peter turns traitor, Caleb goes home and Tris and Tobias plan to kill Jeanine.

En route they are captured by the Factionless – now a heavily armed rebel force lead by Tobias’s mother Evelyn (Naomi Watts). She asks them to join up. But when Jeanine implants her friends with remote controlled suicide devices, Tris has a difficult choice to make

Winslet wears a killer electric blue dress and Woodley aside has so much more presence than her co-stars. It’s a wonder she can’t crush the rebellion with a single exasperated sigh.

Woodley carries the film with a combination of physical strength and emotional vulnerability. It’s great to see two actresses in roles defined by their actions and not their gender – it’s a shame the film’s not deserving enough of them.

It’s a good job Theo James is so buff and handsome as he’s more than a little dull. He and Woodley share strikingly little chemistry – there’s far more spark between Woodley and Teller and even between Teller and Winslet. Teller’s strutting wind-up-merchant is the only engaging male performance.

No matter how hard the film works to surprise us – and it does work very hard – nothing ever throws us off balance as it prettily plods to the third instalment.


Director: Robert Schwentke (2013)

This misfiring celestial cop caper should be locked up for a long time – for crimes against cinema.

Corrupt cop Nick Walker (Ryan Reynolds) is shot dead by a colleague over some ill-gotten gold.

Halfway to the afterlife he is offered redemption if he joins the RIPD (Rest In Peace Department) – a supernatural police force tasked with ridding Earth of “deados” – spirits hiding there hoping to evade judgment.

Walker is coerced into a partnership with Wild West sheriff Roy Pulsipher (Jeff Bridges), forming a demonically dull duo who share no tangible chemistry.

In many ways Reynolds is perfectly cast as a spook as it’s difficult to register his presence – while Bridges indulges himself and provides a pantomime performance.

Being dead and therefore indestructible adds lack of tension to the film’s extensive charge sheet – which includes ropey special effects, excessive use of formulaic scriptwriting and failing to provide wit, logic or excitement.

Action scenes are directed in a video-game style and the voice-over and flashbacks at the beginning smack of desperate editing to add some energy to the lacklustre and limp proceedings.

To disguise themselves from living loved ones (such as Walker’s wife) the pair appear to everyone as an elderly Chinese man and a glamorous blonde woman.

The script fails to do anything interesting with this idea and then forgets about it whenever it’s inconvenient.

Despite ascension imagery and allusions to paradise and the referencing of the staff of Jacob: God, the devil, heaven and hell are conspicuously not mentioned – presumably to avoid offending any religious types who may be watching. But there’s more chance of your sense of humour being offended by the paucity of fun on offer.

The pair pursue Walker’s killer and former partner Bobby Hayes (Kevin Bacon) and uncover a deado plot to take over the world.

Bacon seems to being enjoying himself and Mary-Louise Parker is nicely spikey presence. There’s occasionally some interesting imagery but even that looks purloined from A Life Less Ordinary or The Last Action Hero.

The detectives are suspended from the case after a deado escapes due to their incompetence.

With only 24 hours before hell literally breaks loose, the pair predictably go rogue and set about saving the world.

But they can’t also save this action comedy which is dead behind the eyes.