“Insurgent,” the second in the “Divergent” trilogy, takes one of the oldest dramatic tropes—the fear of the “other”—and blows it up into a teen epic about dystopia, guilt and artfully tossed pixie haircuts.
The backstory: In “Divergent” a Big Brother style government has divided the post-apocalyptic Chicago into five factions: the altruistic Abnegation sect, the peace loving Amity, the “I cannot tell a lie” Candor group, the militaristic arm Dauntless and the smarty-pants Erudites.
At age sixteen all citizens must submit to a personality test that will help them decide which faction they will join. Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) is from an Abnegation family, but chooses to join Dauntless, the warrior faction charged with protecting the city. During her training it’s discovered she is divergent, a person who cannot be pigeonholed into just one designation.
At the beginning of the new film Tris, her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and boyfriend Four (Theo James) have escaped the world of factions and are living off the grid. They are fugitives from Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet), the head of the Erudite faction and an evil brainiac who desperately wants to get her hands on Tris. As a 100% divergent Tris is one of the few who can unlock the secrets of a mysterious box that holds the key to the future of humanity. As revolution brews against Janine, and the fascism of the factions, Tris does the only thing she can do to stop the bloodshed.
“Insurgent” takes place against a broad backdrop but that large canvas is painted with one very simple free-to-be-you-and-me-message. There is talk of class warfare and revolution but its bottom line tutorial on acceptance and “just because you may be different doesn’t mean you’re bad” is a potent lesson for teens.
The framework the solid message hangs on is a bit creaky, however. When characters aren’t explaining plot lines—whether it is by way of truth serums or Janine’s monologue to herself—they do inexplicable things, excusing them by saying, “I know it doesn’t make any sense, but I have to do it.”
Woodley’s expressive face and eyes (not to mention the perfect Vidal Sassoon haircut) bring humanity to the story and Miles Teller’s smarmy villain character is a fun mix of Alex Delarge and Courage the Cowardly Dog, but much of “Insurgent” feels too generic to really be of interest. The action packed finale, for instance, puts Tris through her paces but none of the stunts feel real enough—thanks to the CGI—for there to be any real sense of jeopardy.
“Insurgent” is a curious thing. It’s a movie that sings the praises of being different and yet presents the story in as generic a way as possible. If it truly believed in its main thesis it would take more chances.