Insurgent—The AllMovie Review

★ ★ ½

Young Adult dystopian films are apparently here to stay. Divergent, the first book in author Veronica Roth’s best-selling YA trilogy, was adapted for the big screen in 2014, and the series is back almost exactly a year later with the sequel. The Divergent Series: Insurgent picks up immediately after the events of the previous movie, as the series’ teen heroes Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) flee a walled-in and bombed-out future Chicago.

Insurgent jumps straight into the action, and assumes the viewer has seen the first film—very little ancillary exposition is provided. While Divergent seemed bogged down by the need to explain every detail of its far-fetched world, Insurgent bypasses that for a more driven story. Tris, Four, and the other Divergents are fugitives from the oppressive faction system, which segregates society according to individual character traits. The society’s leader, Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet), is hunting down Divergents with a vengeance, believing that one of them possesses the ability to open a mysterious box that has been passed down by the founders of the faction system. Teaming up with other societal outcasts, the Divergents fight back against the oppressive regime.

There’s a considerable amount of depth to Woodley’s performance as Tris this time around—much more so than the rather one-dimensional character she inhabited in the prior installment. Tris is haunted by the decisions she made at the end of Divergent, including playing a large role in the deaths of numerous people close to her. A reoccurring image throughout Insurgent is the simulation-induced appearance of her mother (Ashley Judd), who was killed in the first film. Tris is burdened with guilt, but still has the ability to express love, empathy, and honesty—which is fitting, given her class-system-defying status of being Divergent.

A notable trend in these YA film adaptations is the presence of accomplished older actors playing authority figures (think Donald Sutherland in The Hunger Games or Patricia Clarkson in The Maze Runner). Insurgent is no different, and benefits greatly from performances by Kate Winslet and Naomi Watts. Winslet is a holdover from the first movie, and her role as the relentless despot Jeanine Matthews remains an important cog in the overarching story. Watts appears as Four’s assumed dead, but actually alive mother, who turns out to be the leader of the underground “faction-less” clan.

Despite the ensemble cast and some inspiring performances, Insurgent treads water for the majority of its 119 minutes. The action scenes are well-crafted and frequent, but the near-ridiculous concept of the story tends to invalidate the best aspects of the film. The majority of Tris’ hand-to-hand combat scenes take place inside simulations, with the character unconscious from a serum. The bulk of the movie is an awkward dance between reality and replication, but surprisingly, it pulls itself together for an effective (albeit convoluted) ending. Teens will love the defiant lead characters and the shoot-’em-up action, but critics should pay special attention to Woodley. She’s a tremendous young talent, and while she’s tied to the Divergent series for another two films, she seems ready to explode into superstardom soon.