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Maze Runner: Insurgent

The last time I dived into the world of Divergent, Tris (played by Shaileen Woodley) had just stopped Jeannine (Kate Winslet) and her dastardly plot to initiate a hostile takeover from Abnegation for control of the remains of a mostly intact Chicago, seemly the last refuge of civilization on Earth. It's been five days since their escape and.....well, Jeannine, despite that setback, has taken over the Windy City and has enacted martial law. So, the whole third act of the first movie where Tris and Four (Theo James) break into Eritude, stop the tyrannical ruler-in-waiting from using a mind-control serum from killing an entire faction? It was all for nought, because she still assumes power. In fact, couldn't she still use the mind-control serum and still pull off her genocidal plan? Being a diabolical villain who's end goal was complete and total power, wouldn't she have a few spares of that drug, or the formula to remake it at the very least? If you've guessed that the mind-control serum will never be brought up again, congratulations, you've spotted a glaring plot hole!

Anyway, in The Divergent Series: Insurgent, Jeannine, through the help of her right-hand henchmen, Eric (once again played by Jai Courtney), has found an ancient relic from a forgotten age, the Tesseract, which if opened, could spell doom for the planet.....Aaaaaaaaand, I'm playing another round of "Name That Sci-Fi Film Reference!"carried over from the first movie. Oh, deep joy. No, it's not the portal from Marvel Cinematic Universe flicks Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers, but it is a multi-sided glowing maguffin that will act as overall main drive of the plot. Tris, Four, Caleb (Ansel Egort) and smug douchebag Miles Teller (his character's name is Peter, but since Teller has played this sort of person in various films before, I'm just going to call him by his first name, since he's essentially playing himself) have escaped to the faction of Amity, led by Johanna, played by Octavia Spencer, a new addition to the series, who will do next to nothing except complain about how she's tired of Tris constantly upending the peace in her community.  We're also introduced to Four's mother, Evelyn, played by Harry Potter alum Naomi Watts, leader of Factionless, a group of underground rebel freedom fighters who want to overthrow the tyrannical regime....and it's a ripoff double-whammy! Not only is Insurgent borrowing from Brett Ratner's Hercules of all things, but they're also borrowing from Joseph Kosinski's Oblivion, as it pertains to having a group of rebels who's leader isn't exactly on the level. Seriously, when you're movie is lifting plot points and character tropes from those two mediocre flicks, you have serious problems.

Like its predecessor before, Insurgent suffers from a lack of originality; it borrows from different elements from other better science-fiction and young-adult adaptations and it fails to produce a different spin of its own. Speaking of borrowing from better sci-fi flicks, she rounds up the remaining Divergents she hasn't killed off and uploads them into the training program from The Matrix and has them undergo a series of brutal trials in order to open the box. When all of the test subjects die inside the Matrix, who else but Miles Teller shows up and rats out Tris by telling the Eritude leader that the cunning warrior attacks his or her enemy by going after the heart....and it's borrowing the scene where Norman Osborn "talks" to the mask of the Green Goblin in Spider-Man, minus the inner monologue from Willem Dafoe. To really hammer home how much this series borrows from other films, I'm going to tell you how this movie ends: Thomas, through injecting himself with Griever venom, reveals that he's been working for an organization called WCKD, who've been using young children and putting them through the Maze as test subjects. After Thomas and his new friends escape the Maze, they learn the truth about why they've been used as test subjects: the planet was hit by a deadly solar flare, followed by a deadly pathogen called the Flare virus, which wiped out civilization as they knew it. The Maze was a testing ground to see if younger people might hold a cure to stop the effects of the virus and restore what's left of civilization. Yes, that's the plot twist to The Maze Runner, but swap out Dylan O'Brien for Shaileen Woodley and the Maze for the factions and the enclosed off ruins of Chicago, and it's essentially the same reveal.

I know I've been harping on this for the entire review, but I swear I now understand how Mathew Buck, a.k.a. "Film Brain" must have felt while reviewing Moon 44 back in 2011: I could look at every scene and figure out where the film has borrowed a specific plot point or maguffin from, and it makes the whole affair a tedious slog to sit through because it brings nothing new to the table.. The only good things I can say about this installment is what I've said about its predecessor, which is that Shaileen Woodley tries her damned hardest to carry the material. Her scenes where she's struggling to come to terms with everything that's happened: the death of her parents, killing Christina's (Zoe Kravitz) love interest, Will, and then confessing her crimes to the Candor court are both powerful and well-acted, because she gives this heroine a convincing vulnerability. And, like last time, Kate Winslet is having a ball playing the tyrannical matriarch. She's a ruthless, power-hungry bitch who revels in being a ruthless, power-hungry bitch who will do whatever it takes to be on top. It kind of reminds me of Lena Heady's Cersei Lannister on Game of Thrones, but in a sci-fi flavor: she's out for hers and she wields her power with absolute certainty and without mercy. Another welcome presence is Teller, playing the slimy, double-crossing prick Peter. He knows he should be doing better work like Whiplash and The Spectacular Now, but if he's going to be on paycheck duty, he might as well chew some scenery and mask his contempt for being in this series, and he delivers some of the best lines in the movie. Aside from the key performances and some rather impressive visual effects work, Insurgent is another formulaic and boring entry in a series that's about a young woman trying to break the shackles of adherence to tradition and conformity, ironically enough. It's not terrible, just more of the same from the first movie. Unfortunately, they made a second sequel, Allegiant, and it makes me pine for the blandness of the first two movies.

** stars out of ****

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