Thursday, March 19, 2015

Review: "The Divergent Series: Insurgent"

I liked "Divergent" more than the first movie in the "Hunger Games" trilogy, and its sequel is a step up from that other franchise's sequel, too.

(This despite the goofy, long-winded title. What, did they really think if they just released it as "Insurgent" that people wouldn't know what it's about?)

Based on the YA books by Veronica Roth, "The Divergent Series: Insurgent" continues the story of young rebel Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley), the "chosen one" seemingly destined to overthrow the tyrannical regime that rules a post-apocalyptic dystopia. Set hundreds of years in the future in a dilapidated Chicago, where remnants of skyscrapers rise like great eroded sand castles, the people have been divided up into five factions based on their personality and attributes.

Tris was revealed to be divergent, meaning she carries traits of several factions, and thus is marked for death by Jeanine (Kate Winselt), chief of the intellectuals, Erudite. Tris had chosen the Dauntless clan, attracted by the soldier caste's embrace of adventure. She was assisted in her journey from wallflower to warrior by Four (Theo James), her trainer-cum-lover, who turned out to be divergent, too.

When last we left things, the rebels had uncovered a scheme by Erudite to wipe out the ruling faction, Abnegation, after Tris and her crew stormed their HQ. Now they're hiding out with the peace-loving Amity (led by Octavia Spencer).

Tris, now sporting a chic short haircut and a guilty conscience, is obsessed with killing Jeanine and ending the war before it's gone too far.

(Of course, she had an opportunity to do that in the last movie and settled for just impaling Winslet's hand with a knife. Shoulda coulda.)

Anyway, things continue apace with an effort to unite the other factions against the oppressors. Tris becomes a reluctant symbol of that movement -- much like Katniss does in HG.

Director Robert Schwentke and screenwriting trio Brian Duffield, Akiva Goldsman and Mark Bomback keep things moving along at an agreeable pace, never making the mistake of letting the talkie character scenes slow the proceedings down for long.

Things get a little trippy in the second half, with more simulated missions designed to break Tris' will, and a mysterious box which purportedly contains all of life's answers. This results in some very Matrix-y moments, such as Tris chasing a building containing her imperiled mother that's both flying and on fire.

Also turning up are Naomi Watts as Four's long-lost, and not particularly loved, mother; Peter (Miles Teller), a former Dauntless comrade who takes special delight in tormenting Tris over her failings; and Caleb (Ansel Elgort), Tris' prevaricating brother, who previously trained with the Erudites and still holds some affinity for their Machiavellian ethos.

(Woodley and Elgort have since starred as a star-crossed couple in "The Fault in Our Stars," so it's a little weird now to watch them as sibling antagonists.)

This isn't the most original material in the world -- at times the movie feels like "Hunger Games" spliced with "Inception" and "The Matrix," with a little "X-Men" xenophobia tossed in, too. But "The Divergent Series: Insurgent" is both a bit of fun and a little bit dangerous. It's like a cute, surly boy from the suburbs.

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