After reading the books and seeing Divergent, I have to admit my expectations were somewhat damped going to the second in the series. But I knew this would be the story with the most action and likely best on the big screen, so I went despite my lowered enthusiasm.

At the top of the film I was actually hopeful. There were some clever choices in collapsing the first chunk of the story, though at the expense of some of the plot. And the level of whining that is in the books was massively reduced as a result; Tris was allowed to take action a lot sooner. However, my hopes quickly hit shoals.

Here’s the thing: nothing is difficult in this movie. Nothing. Even the books had Tris struggling and failing, and carnage abounded. There was a price to choices. Insurgent is almost paint-by-numbers; not of the book as they veer wildly from that plot, but in its movement. First this happens, then this, then that, then… well, you get the idea. There is no tension, no reward, and barely a drop of emotion.

Woodley (The Fault in Our Stars) works with what she has and delivers what director Schwentke (RIPD) asks, but it left me cold and wondering why I bothered to come to the theater for this one. The action was OK, the 3D (which I ended up seeing by accident due to the theater changing the schedule) was less than useful and effective, and the story was empty. I’m not saying there weren’t moments, but they were few and far between.

Of all the roles, Spencer (Snowpiercer) as the head of Amity was the most completely underused and under-delivered performance. At least Teller (Whiplash), who has one of those critical but thankless roles that have to exist in a poorly written story to make it happen, tried to make it count. But, despite his rakish charm, he still felt manipulated and unreal. The rest of the cast serves its purpose, but no one stands out, except perhaps for Kim (The Tale of the Princess Kaguya) and his suits. And that isn’t the reason you want to remember a performance.

Ultimately, this is an immature bit of writing and story, despite attempts to make it more believable than its source material–though in the trying they actually make it worse (I went back and checked<g>). The studio assumed an audience and didn’t bother to build a world or accept the darkness. And that failing belongs to the writers (all 3 of them, which may have been part of the issue: too many cooks). There is no voice or purpose in this script, it simply runs the plot points and skips over some of the most important moments. And, honestly, with the changes, I don’t know how they go forward with the story that spawned the series.

It is probably no better or worse than the first film, but that isn’t a high bar. I wish they’d taken the opportunity to build on what they’d had with more than budget and f/x. And I will say that the extensive use of simulations made me invest even less in action, even if I wasn’t sure if it was real or not.

If you are a fan, you’ll probably enjoy yourself, if you accept the changes to the story. It is watchable, and, again, there are moments. I didn’t hate it, I just didn’t really get much from it or get invested in any of the characters.

If you’re not a fan of either the books or the first movie, there is nothing for you here. For that reason, I couldn’t even give the movie a passing grade. That a good part of the audience is raving about it hurts me artistically. It could have been told well, even with its silly premise, but it just isn’t and shouldn’t be rewarded for its bad choices. Hunger Games has proved that stories like this can be done written and done well, so there is no excuse to go lazy now.

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