The spate of films about teens in dystopia must spend a big chunk of time explaining the rules of the futuristic environments:
“‘These’ people are called ‘this’ because they do ‘that’ and must stay ‘here’ but can’t go ‘there,’ otherwise…”
The movies successful enough to justify a sequel — a la “The Hunger Games” and now “Divergent” — at last get to move on to more straightforward adventure. Without all “that” yammering.
But in the case of “Insurgent,” the first sequel based on Veronica Roth’s best-selling “Divergent” trilogy, the concept and the adventures remain earnest and underwhelming. The two-hour effort could benefit from less moping, less violence and especially less fitful dreaming.
Last year’s somewhat underrated “Divergent” introduced a post-apocalyptic Chicago divided into five zoned factions. Shailene Woodley starred as Tris, the rebel of the title who was hunted down for displaying traits from multiple factions. In “Insurgent,” Tris must find a way to unseat Jeanine (Kate Winslet, in her first-ever sequel), the power-hungry leader of the Erudite faction who wiped out the Abnegation group led by Tris’ parents.
Tris, her Dauntless boyfriend Four (Theo James), brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and frenemy Peter (Miles Teller) retreat to an Amity village that soon turns into an Amity horror when Jeanine’s troops attack. Evidently, Jeanine has uncovered a prized artifact (which looks like Pinhead’s puzzle box from “Hellraiser”) that can be unlocked only by a Divergent like Tris. This metallic MacGuffin assaults the subject with deadly virtual-reality challenges.
It doesn’t take long before Jeanine realizes Tris might be the only one capable of surviving such an ordeal.
Cue Tris waking up alarmed by another dream!
Unlike comparable genre entries “The Maze Runner” and “The Giver,” “Insurgent” boasts a legitimate movie star anchoring the franchise. The 23-year-old Woodley projects a sense of clarity in a role that demands both external physicality and internal feelings. Few actors her age can say so much with only a wordless close-up.
Her co-stars aren’t blessed with the same opportunities.
Elgort burst out of the screen playing a rogue charmer opposite Woodley in “The Fault in Our Stars.” As her conflicted brother here, he’s a total stiff. A nearly emotion-free entity. The fault is in the source material, not the star.
Faring better is Teller, who charismatically caroused with Woodley in “The Spectacular Now” (and was so memorable in the Oscar-nominated “Whiplash”). At least he gets a few snarky-good lines as the turncoat malcontent of the group.
German director Robert Schwentke emerged with the memorably sick thriller “Tattoo” before helming Hollywood duds such as “Flightplan” and “R.I.P.D.” About the only defining skill he brings to this perfunctory blockbuster is a strong sense of design, best exhibited in the various habitats of each faction: from the pragmatic, sterile workplaces of the Erudite to the Parkour-friendly ruins of the Factionless outcasts.
Even the mildest bit of scrutiny will start poking holes in the film’s plot, if not the whole premise of this wacky commune. For instance, aren’t Abnegation and Amity and Candor just all vague notions of doing good?
It’s also a little strange that almost every character of note who dies in “Insurgent” does so by an execution-style gunshot to the head. It’s as if a mob hit man from the 1930s wrote the screenplay.
How’s that for Candor?
Rated PG-13 | Time: 1:59