Yerro: Insurgent: Thin plot, great effects

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015


I CANNOT blame movie producers for rushing sequels. Cinemagoers have been infected with the telenovella syndrome: They can't wait to find out what happens to their heroes in the next instalment.

Today, we can't escape film sequels. The Twilight Saga (Breaking Dawn) was cut up into four movies. The Hunger Games has a third sequel about to be released.

Like Hunger Games, Divergent was adopted from a bestselling book for young adults. Both films are set in a future dystopian world, both have a woman leading a rebellion against the established order.

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Do you spot a trend here? The Motion Picture Association of America does. According to the MPAA, for the fifth year in a row, majority of moviegoers in the US and Canada are women. "In fact, the number of female moviegoers increased slightly in 2014, while the number of male moviegoers remained flat," the MPAA noted.

That's not all. In 2013, more women tended to watch movies with a female superhero. That explains why Katniss Everdeen is the new face of Girl Power.

Now comes Tris Prior, who has a growing following as the Divergent who is challenging the faction system that rules the crumbling city of Chicago. Insurgent picks up the action from the last scene in Divergent, where fugitives Tris, Four, Tris' brother Caleb and Peter find temporary sanctuary with Amity, who have settled in the wilderness outside Chicago's towering perimeter wall. Their stay with the peace-loving faction is cut short after the forces of Erudite pick up their trail.

Erudite leader Jeanine has a special interest in Tris, the only certified 100-percent Divergent who can open a box containing a message left behind by the city's founders. Jeanine wants to use the message to validate her mandate to rule.

Eric turns against his three companions early on and Caleb sets out on his own, leaving just Tris and Four. The two sneak back into Chicago to try to rally other factions against Erudite. They establish an alliance with Factionless, but get into trouble with Candor, who insist that the two to confess their transgressions with the help of a truth serum.

The story builds up to the inevitable confrontation between Tris and Jeanine at Erudite headquarters. After giving herself up to Jeanine, Tris is subjected to simulation trials, in which she is hooked to cables that transport her to a virtual world (think Neo plugging in in Matrix). She almost flat-lines in the process, but recovers just as Factionless storm the Erudite stronghold.

Tris opens the box, and the message spells the downfall of Jeanine, whose life Tris spares for the second time (In Divergent, she had the chance to kill Jeanine, but sticks a knife into her hand instead, assuring that the evil leader lives on for the sequel).

I understand that the final Divergent book will be split into two movies, so expect Tris and Four to hang around a little longer.

Insurgent upstages Divergent in terms of action and visual effects. Director Robert Schwentke gives the sequel a staccato pace, and there are a few droopy moments. But it is the special effects that make Insurgent shimmer. The simulation trial sets rival 3D video games in scope and spectacle, and the rendering of post-apocalyptic Chicago is strikingly forbidding.

Shailene Woodley is strong yet vulnerable as Tris, who battles inner demons to make sure her parents did not die in vain. But I expect something more from her as her character gets more complicated in the next sequels.

Kate Winslet's Jeanine has lost some of the sting she displayed in Divergent. Theo James has little to show as Four other than his good looks. Ansel Elgort does only slightly better as Caleb.

Despite the thin, predictable plot, Insurgent has that certain sci-fi appeal that lifts it from being just a movie for young adults. And I'm a sucker for sci-fi.

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