April 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

The Fast and the Feisty | “Insurgent” Film Review

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Theo James and Shailene Woodley in The Divergent Series: Insurgent (Photo credit: Andrew Cooper)

Theo James and Shailene Woodley in The Divergent Series: Insurgent (Photo credit: Andrew Cooper)

After the heavy plot lifting in the first film based on Veronica Roth’s “Divergent” trilogy (HarperCollins), viewers are in for a smoother ride in the adaptation of her second installment, Insurgent (2012). It speeds past intricate intrigues and sketchy characterizations, moving like a sleek roller-coaster ride, free from clunky exposition.

The sci-fi action saga picks up three days from where last year’s too-long Divergent sputtered out, with the rebel Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) on the lam and branded as “the one true enemy” by the fascistic ruler of a walled-in, battle-scared Chicago. She offputtingly goes by the innocuous sounding name Jeanine (played by Kate Winslet in Hitchcock blond mode). Tris; her hunky boyfriend, Four (the stiff Theo James); her meek brother, Caleb (Ansel Elgort); and cocky Peter (Miles Teller) are blamed for the attack on Abnegation, one of the five designated factions in this futuristic, insular (though seemingly underpopulated) society. In fact, Jeanine was the mastermind behind the killings, which included Tris’s parents among the victims. Jeanine’s motto: “Dark times call for extreme measures.”

In the equivalent of a MacGuffin (and devised for the film), Jeanine’s military forces have discovered a five-sided, locked, and blinking container among the Abnegation wreckage. The catch: only someone who is 100 percent Divergent (in other words, a person who doesn’t rigidly fit in with one of the social castes) can open the box and discover its message from 200 years ago. Guess who’s the chosen one? Meanwhile, Tris and her cohorts remain hunted by the ruling Erudite, and in keeping with the filmmakers’ focus on action over thought, the heroine firmly comes to the conclusion that Jeanine must die—no ambivalence here.

Kate Winslet in The Divergent Series: Insurgent (Photo credit: Andrew Cooper)

Kate Winslet in The Divergent Series: Insurgent (Photo credit: Andrew Cooper)

The screenwriters face a daunting (or is that Dauntless?) challenge in distilling the 544-paged novel’s incident-rich, labyrinth of a story line. The result is fewer characters and less clutter. Any pause in the action is like a reset button, serving as a setup for the next ambush; peaceful moments are short lived. (More glass is shattered here than in any movie in recent memory.) Nevertheless, the storytelling pulls one over the audience: nearly 40 years after Brian De Palma’s Carrie, the fake dream sequence still has the capacity to mislead viewers.

Concluding on a clear, concise note, The Divergent Series: Insurgent doesn’t feel like a middle movie. It practically stands alone, though there are unresolved threads from the first film. However, since the characters are so uncomplicated, newcomers shouldn’t need a score card to follow along.

Few will come to this for the acting, though it features a tony all-star cast. There are many awkward pauses, especially among the male actors, some of whom have a limited emotional range that varies from the impassive to the slightly perturbed. Once again, Woodley (now elfish, with her hair fashionably cropped off) recharges the series. While she’s one of the boys, kickboxing her way out of a jam, she infuses the otherwise tough-minded tone with some much-needed vulnerability.

Naomi Watts joins the franchise as Evelyn, a resistance commander who’s out to get Jeanine. Anticlimactically, though, Watts and Winslet appear briefly together, and sadly, neither actress is given much to do. Likewise, Tris’s encounters with the cagey Evelyn have far less friction than in the book.

Yet this film stands apart from other action-driven extravaganzas in one notable aspect: it’s set in a woman’s world. All but one of the leaders is female, including the earth mother leader of the hippy-dippy Amity faction, played by Octavia Spencer. Tris herself is a fit and feisty heroine who takes on all comers and acts as protector for her younger, milquetoast brother. (It’s strange to recall Woodley and Elgort kissing in last summer’s The Fault in Our Stars. Eeeew.) Even when Tris is saved at the nick of time by a man, she picks herself up and jumps into the fray once more.

The final entry in Roth’s series will be split into two films, as is the norm now for YA films. Allegiant: Part 1 is scheduled to be released on March 18, 2016.


Directed by Robert Schwentke
118 min.
Rated PG-13

Kent Turner About Kent Turner

Kent Turner (kturner@mediasourceinc.com) edits SLJ's DVD reviews and is the editor of Film-Forward.com