The Divergent Series: Insurgent


In the future there will be no chairs.

In the future there will be no chairs.

(2015) Science Fiction (Summit) Kate Winslet, Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort, Jai Courtney, Mekhi Phifer, Octavia Spencer, Ashley Judd, Tony Goldwyn, Ray Stevenson, Naomi Watts, Jonny Weston, Daniel Dae Kim, Maggie Q, Suki Waterhouse, Rosa Salazar, Zoe Kravitz, Janet McTeer, Lyndsi LaRose. Directed by Robert Schwentke

These days, dystopian futures seem to be all the rage. No longer does one need to wear shades when viewing the future; we can look forward to darkness, pain, despair and hopelessness. I suppose how we see the future tells us a lot about how we view the present.

For those who don’t remember Divergent or the book series it was based on, the world has been beset by some sort of apocalyptic event and the population has been herded into Chicago and divided into factions according to their gifts – Erudite (intelligence), Amity (peace), Candor (truth), Dauntless (military) and Abignation (service), the latter of which was essentially wiped out at the end of the last movie. There are those who display none of the five qualities; those are called Factionless and live in abject poverty on the edge of society. There are also those who contain two or more qualities – they are called Divergents. Our heroine is one of these.

Speaking of our heroine, now that Tris (Woodley) and her lover Four (James) have foiled the plans of Jeanine (Winslet), the power-mad evil leader of the Erudite faction, they have taken refuge with the pastoral Amity along with Tris’ none-too-brave brother Caleb (Elgort) and the snarky Peter (Teller) who seems to live to push buttons. As for Amity, their leader Johanna (Spencer) is providing them shelter although she’s not entirely happy about it. Jeanine wants to round up the last of the rebellious Dauntless group that has split from the main group that is now commanded by the evil Eric (Courtney) but she seems far more obsessed with a metal box found in the wreckage of the home of Tris’ parents Andrew (Goldwyn) and Natalie (Judd) who both bit the big one in the first film.

That box contains symbols for all five of the factions and seems sealed with even the technology of Erudite unable to penetrate its secrets. Jeanine believes that the box contains a message from the Founders, one which will confirm her campaign to eliminate the Divergents although, ironically enough, it seems that only a Divergent can open the box by passing the simulations of all five of the factions. Naturally Four and Tris are pretty certain that Jeanine must not find out what’s in the box. In the meantime, Jeanine is having Eric and his Dauntless minions shoot nasty little tracking devices that can also allow Jeanine to control the subjects to the point of forcing them to commit suicide.

The odds against Tris and her remaining allies are formidable although she receives an unexpected ally in Factionless who are now being led by, of all people, Four’s mother Evelyn (Watts) who everyone belied was dead and had in fact faked her own death for reasons that are unbelievably flimsy. However, in order to save the Divergents who are being hunted down and forced to undergo the ordeal of the simulations which is killing them off in short order, Tris will have to go to the heart of the beast and face down Jeanine herself.

Somewhat ironically, Insurgent apparently diverges from Victoria Roth’s source novel fairly radically. Being as I’m not familiar with the books, I can’t say whether that’s necessarily a bad thing or not but I can say that the illogical world of the Divergent book series is so full of lapses and plot holes that it’s hard to believe that anyone buys any of this. Any rudimentary student of human nature knows that we are not just one thing; we are many, and to think that keeping all people with a common trait in a society is not a sure way to eliminate conflict. If anything, people with like ways of thinking tend to get in a lot more conflict

The action sequences are pretty good and the special effects are even better, particularly in the sim sequences. There’s definitely plenty of eye candy, particularly for young pre-teen and teen girls who will find young hunks James, Elgort, Teller, Courtney and Phifer making their hearts beat faster than the adrenaline-fueled action scenes.

Unfortunately, one of the movie’s main drawbacks is Woodley. She’s a fine actress as she’s shown in The Descendents but here…I don’t know. She’s supposed to be a strong female role model but she’s stubborn, makes really illogical and foolish choices that put those she’s close to in danger, she wallows in self-pity and she is known to panic occasionally. There are some that will defend her character as being admirable for overcoming her own human frailties and I have to acknowledge that as a salient point, but even so I never really admire Tris so much as feel dismayed by her. Woodley isn’t responsible for the way the character is written but she comes off as shrill here, which is not how Jennifer Lawrence comes off as Katness Everdeen, a female role model who is beset by self-doubt and fear just as much as Tris.

While some of the supporting characters have some depth to them – particularly Spencer and Kim as the leaders of their respective factions Amity and Candor, and Courtney as the deliciously evil Eric – the acting here tends to the scene chewing sort. I can live with that though ahead of the movie’s two most egregious sins; first, that in order for audiences to make sense of this movie you need to either be familiar with the first film or the book series. Those who aren’t are going to have a very hard time following this, so it doesn’t stand on its own very well. Secondly and perhaps more damning is that the movie follows the young adult franchise formula to the “T” – a plucky heroine of strong will is reluctantly put into a heroic role while deeply in love with hunky hero who steps aside to be second banana to his girlfriend who saves the day with her self-sacrifice and love for her man, not to mention wicked fighting skills.

Yeah, you’ve seen it all before and done better than this. This is definitely a step backwards from the more entertaining first film. I really can’t recommend it other than to those who really liked the first movie and are eager to see the franchise played out to its conclusion which, true to recent young adult book series form, will see the final book in the trilogy split into two movies. After this debacle, I’m not sure I want to see either of them.

REASONS TO GO: Some very intense action sequences. Some decent supporting performances by Courtney, Spencer and Kim.
REASONS TO STAY: A lot of over-acting. Requires that you either are familiar with the books or saw the first movie. Too much like other young adult franchises.
FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of action violence, some foul language and thematic elements and brief sensuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While the first movie was filmed mostly in Chicago (where the action is set), the sequel was mostly filmed in Atlanta.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/30/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 31% positive reviews. Metacritic: 42/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Host (2013)
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: People Like Us

Hotel Transylvania


Hotel Transylvania

Count Dracula dispenses some fatherly advice.

(2012) Animated Feature (Columbia) Starring the voices of Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez, Andy Samberg, Kevin James, Steve Buscemi, Fran Drescher, David Spade, Cee-Lo Green, Molly Shannon, Jon Lovitz, Brian James, Luenell, Rob Riggle. Directed by Genndy Tartakovsky

 

Being the father of a teenage daughter is  a special kind of hell. We, as dads, know what the world is capable of and it’s natural to be a bit overprotective of our baby girls. Still, it must be way harder to raise a daughter in a world where the majority wants to kill off your entire species.

Count Dracula (Sandler) has more reason than most to fear the humans. While vacationing in Hawaii he met a beautiful vampire named Martha whom he married and had a daughter with. However, angry locals discovered that they had two vampires in their midst and set fire to the house. Dracula was able to rescue his daughter but not his wife. Enraged over the loss of his wife, he swears to protect his daughter from the real monsters and builds a castle in Transylvania that will be forever hidden from human view, a place where his fellow monsters can relax, retreat and be themselves. It’s Hotel Transylvania and every boy and ghoul is just dying to get there (couldn’t help it).

Operating on a strictly humans forbidden basis, the hotel becomes a success. Drac’s daughter Mavis (Gomez) is now 118 and getting restless with her protected lifestyle. She wants to live (which is a bit problematic for the undead), travel, see the world and experience everything. Dracula seems to be all for it at first, but this turns out to be a bit of a ruse.

All of their friends are gathering, from the henpecked Frankenstein (James) and his shrewish wife Eunice (Drescher) to the exhausted werewolf dad Wayne (Buscemi), his also exhausted wife Wanda (Shannon) and their brood of…I don’t know, say 150? – werewolf pups. Then there’s the coolest mummy ever, Murray (Green). They’re all gathering for Mavis’ birthday, an annual event.

Into this chaos rolls (or rather walks) Johnny (Samberg), a hiker who could pass for a surfer or a stoner or both. Rather than being terrified (although at first he does have a bit of a panic attack), he becomes fascinated by the monsters and one in particular – Mavis with whom he is instantly smitten.

Dracula is in a quandary. Not only must he keep his daughter safe from this human, he must keep the guests from finding out about him or else their confidence in their safety at the hotel would be compromised. The problem is that Johnny really isn’t a bad guy once you get to know him. And Mavis has developed feelings for him as well. What’s a dad – and the king of the undead at that – to do?

Tartakovsky, best known for his Cartoon Network classics Star Wars: Clone Wars, Dexter’s Laboratory and Powerpuff Girls tackles his first animated feature with an all-star cast and a much more detailed animation than you usually get on the hideously bad CN. It doesn’t hurt that he has an all-star cast to work with.

Sandler usually has a tendency to be over-the-top but here he’s actually fairly restrained. We get all of the things that are endearing about him and none of the things that are irritating. It’s one of his better performances in the past five years. He gives the overprotective Dracula a touch of humanity that many other performances lack. Yes this is a comedy and meant to be about as scary as Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at Disney World but that doesn’t mean it has to be depth-less. Sandler gives the character a whole lot of reasons for us to identify with him.

Most of the other characters are given less to work with, although Samberg actually acquits himself nicely as the heart-of-gold stoner dude and Lovitz gets to go a little bit over-the-top with his Quasimodo chef’s role. Sadly, that’s about the extent of it. While there are plenty of in-jokes that adults – particularly those who love classic horror films – are going to chuckle at, there really isn’t much in the way of story which we’ve all seen more than once before.

The universe inhabited here is familiar and fun and makes internal sense. While the ending scene with the rap concert at Mavis’ party is unnecessary and simply awful, almost Disney Channel-esque in it’s bad rappery (Cee-Lo baby – you’re better than this, dawg) most of the rest is merely predictable. There are some fun little gags – like Dracula making a demonic face every time he is annoyed.

This isn’t groundbreaking or head-turning in any real way. It’s merely pleasant entertainment that will keep the kids satisfied and the parents won’t necessarily be squirming in their chairs waiting for the show to end. It will probably end up being a Halloween perennial, showing up on cable and later on broadcast TV every October without fail. In that sense it will become a classic because of repeated viewings but it will be one that while inoffensive isn’t necessarily a classic because of exceptional merit.

REASONS TO GO: Nicely drawn universe. Plenty of in-jokes for classic horror fans.

REASONS TO STAY: Story is kind of ho-hum. Rap scene at the end gratuitous and stupid.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a few scary images, some rude humor and a bit of cartoon action.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film was released on World Rabies Day.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/8/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 45% positive reviews. Metacritic: 48/100. The movie is getting seriously mixed reviews..

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Mad Monster Party

MONSTER LOVERS: Among the famous movie monsters that make an appearance here are Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, the Werewolf, the Invisible Man, the Mummy, the Blob, the Fly and Quasimodo.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: The Hunt for Red October