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Family Movie Review: The Divergent Series: Insurgent (PG-13)

Insurgent ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReviewKernel Rating (out of 5): whole-popcorn-kernalwhole-popcorn-kernalhalf-popcorn-kernal

MPAA Rating: PG-13         Length: 119 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 14+. This sequel to last year’s ‘Divergent’ continues along the lines of the first, with a dystopian future where factions are fighting, innocent citizens are often killed by gunfire, there are numerous fistfights and some slashing with a knife, and some mental torture sequences. Also some kissing, characters are shown kissing without shirts on and then waking up in bed together after an implied sexual encounter, and some language.

In comparison with ‘Divergent,’ its sequel ‘Insurgent’ is a superior film, with better pacing, more exciting action sequences, and continued commitment from lead star Shailene Woodley. But the overall plot remains so convoluted and generic that everything else gets bogged down, too.

By Roxana Hadadi

Even if you’ve read the “Divergent” series, “Insurgent” will make no sense at all. While an improvement on last year’s predecessor, this sequel is stuck so firmly in its convoluted world-building and mired so much in its various subplots that it’s practically impossible to keep up. “Insurgent” is certainly exciting, but it’s also frustratingly forgettable.

The film, based on the second novel in the trilogy of young-adult books by author Veronica Roth, assembles a new director (Robert Schwentke, of “R.I.P.D.”) and screenwriters (Brian Duffield, Akiva Goldsman of “Winter’s Tale,” and Mark Bomback of “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”), all of whom are new to the franchise. They do their jobs well, though: “Insurgent” is more streamlined than “Divergent”; the dialogue is smoother; characters’ motivations are more clear. And yet, Roth’s source material remains a problem, with its clunky terminology (Erudite and Abnegation will never roll off the tongue, for example), its unnecessary twists and turns, and its melodramatic treatment of its characters. For as much as Schwentke and Co. can jazz things up, they can’t distill too much, and so the concept remains problematic in ways that are unalterable.

“Insurgent” basically picks up right after where “Divergent” stopped: Teenager Tris (Woodley, of “The Fault In Our Stars”) has learned that within their society, which is divided into five factions—Erudite, the smartest, leading group; Candor, the most honest; Abnegation, the selfless; Amity, the peaceful; and Dauntless, the bravest—she has tested for characteristics of all the groups, leading her to be classified as Divergent. Erudite, led by the manipulative Jeanine (Kate Winslet, of “Labor Day”), wants to consolidate power for herself and sees the Divergent as a threat, so the last film ended with a war declared on the Divergent, with Tris’s home faction of Abnegation destroyed and her parents dead, and with most of the members of her adopted faction of Dauntless on the run from Jeanine’s grasp.

When “Insurgent” begins, it has only been a few days since Tris watched her parents die and was forced to kill one of her friends, and hiding out in Amity isn’t going so well. Her boyfriend Four (Theo James, of “Divergent”) is worried about the nightmares she is still having and lying about. Brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort, of “The Fault In Our Stars”), who joined Erudite, thinks that Jeanine may have the right idea. And frenemy Peter (Miles Teller, of “The Spectacular Now”) wouldn’t be above selling out Tris to the Dauntless aligned with Jeanine to ensure his own safety.

There are a variety of factors at play here, and things only get more complicated when Jeanine’s forces recover an object that is supposed to hold a message from the creators of their society, and which can only be opened with the help of a Divergent. Then a figure from Four’s life mysteriously returns, a development that threatens to drive him and Tris apart. And as Jeanine’s war on the Divergent eventually becomes a war on Tris herself, the sacrifices she’ll have to make lead to an insurmountable moral struggle that forces her to question her own identity.

When it comes to pacing, “Insurgent” is well structured; the countless action sequences flow smoothly into each other (as an example, the first 20 or so minutes of the film go from attack on Amity into chase through the woods into jumping on a train into fight on the train into return to the city, and so on), and though visually the film becomes repetitive (so many burnt-out buildings and flocks of crows flying everywhere!), the dream-fight sequences in the final act are meticulously detailed. There’s a good balance between what Tris and her group are doing versus what Jeanine and her people are doing, a perspective that wasn’t allowed in Roth’s book, which was only from Tris’s point of view, and that makes the world here seem more comprehensively considered.

But the relationships between characters still aren’t great: Woodley and James don’t seem to have romantic chemistry anymore, so when Four admits under a powerful truth serum that he’s in love with Tris, the moment falls flat. The depths of superiority and smarminess for Caleb and Peter, respectively, aren’t fully explored, either; neither Elgort nor Teller have enough to do, although the latter steals every scene he’s in with confident, smug charm. Woodley is steady like she was in “Divergent,” but she can only do so much. And then there’s how hastily the narrative moves from subplot to subplot: Tris’s guilt and post-traumatic stress, to Four’s feelings of abandonment, to their all-consuming love for each other, to Tris’s hero complex, to Four’s hero complex, to the Divergent uprising, on and on and on. (Yet this is with a few different subplots from the original novel totally cut out, so you can imagine how unnecessarily packed the book was.)

The issue with “Insurgent,” then, is that Roth’s source material can only be tweaked so much. There is still a core structure to the narrative that makes this story more complicated than it needs to be, and while “Insurgent” is a more exciting ride with improved elements this time around, it’s still a somewhat nonsensical one.

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.

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