Oh, middle films. Like the middle child, they miss out on all the affection. The first gets so much acclaim as it’s the opener; the initial entry point into this world. The final film carries the burden of tying up loose ends, equipped with a valuable sense of finality. The middle film of a movie franchise serves a lesser purpose: to continue on from the narrative and maintain the pace, while leaving enough open for what’s still to come. Sadly, Robert Schwentke’s adaptation of Veronica Roth’s Insurgent falls short in that very area, without any sense of linearity, and thus struggles to engage and entertain.
Shailene Woodley revisits the role of Tris, now a fugitive, on the run with her boyfriend Four (Theo James), brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and the vindictive Peter (Miles Teller). She’s wanted by the tyrannical Jeanine (Kate Winslet), who wishes to kill the youngster and maintain the status quo across the land. It’s because Tris is a ‘divergent’ – not fitting into any of the five factions that separates the public, thus deeming her a danger to society. But she’s also on a mission of her own, wanting to avenge the untimely death of her parents.
Schwentke plays with our perceptions throughout, as nightmares haunt Tris, with several sequences that are difficult to determine whether it’s reality or in her sub-conscious. It makes for a film that is uncomfortable in parts, helped along by the fact that our protagonists are all fugitives, and therefore on the run, creating a tension that is born out of the fact they’re forever looking over their shoulders; never knowing who to trust. This marks what is a maturer offering from this franchise, seemingly more focused on the action sequences, as opposed to the romance that was a jarring addition in the preceding production. Though that comes with its own problems, as a tedious formula transpires whereby our protagonists are staring death in the face, only for somebody, or something to miraculously save the day. Honestly, they get out of more sticky situations than James Bond.
Woodley shines in the lead role, bringing some depth to a character that, in truth, is severely underwritten. Tris represents the viewer, she’s the emotional core of the piece – and yet is so single-layered, it’s a challenge to relate to her and sympathise with her plight. Sadly James isn’t blessed with a very nuanced role either, and unlike Tris, it remains that way, as the British actor turns in a rather wooden performance. If there’s one lesson to be learnt from this though, it’s that Miles Teller should be given a lot more to do – not only is he such an absorbing actor, but his character is actually rather interesting, which is something of a rarity in this production.