A movie review of “Insurgent”: Shailene Woodley, Theo James and Kate Winslet return in this second installment of the dystopian series, which picks up right where “Divergent” left off. Rating: 2 stars out of 4.
“Insurgent” is like a private communication between fans of Veronica Roth’s best-selling series of young-adult novels and the filmmakers who have adapted the second book in that series to the big screen. By that I mean, if you haven’t read “Insurgent” and, more importantly, haven’t seen “Divergent” — the 2014 picture that preceded it (or read the book from which it’s derived) — you won’t have the faintest idea what’s going on in this movie.
That’s because “Insurgent” picks up right where “Divergent” left off, and without knowledge of the backstory — and “Divergent” is all backstory — you’ll be lost, lost, lost.
As the novels (there are three) have sold multiple millions of copies and as “Divergent” earned close to $289 million worldwide last year, clearly there’s a big audience for Roth’s tales of a dystopian future set in a ruined Chicago. But for moviegoers who don’t belong to its core constituency, it’s as if a big sign proclaiming “Outsiders Not Welcome” has been posted at the gates of this particular dystopia.
Movie Review ★★
‘Insurgent,’ with Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet, Octavia Spencer. Directed by Robert Schwentke, from a screenplay by Brian Duffield, Akiva Goldsman and Mark Bomback, based on a novel by Veronica Roth. 118 minutes. Rated PG-13 for intense violence and action throughout, some sensuality, thematic elements and brief language. Several theaters.
As it happens, I have read the novel and seen “Divergent” — twice! — and yet still found “Insurgent” barely comprehensible.
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Dystopia is in turmoil as young heroine Tris (Shailene Woodley), her boyfriend/soul mate Tobias, aka “Four” (Theo James), and her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) are on the run from paramilitary forces controlled by Jeanine (Kate Winslet), the ice-queen villain of the piece.
In the rigidly segmented society imagined by Roth, the populace is divvied up into Amity folks (think crunchy-granola hippie peaceniks), Candor (honest to a fault), Abnegation (caring, self-sacrificing souls), Dauntless (warriors) and Erudite (brainiacs/overlords).
Tris fits no set mold. She’s Divergent, evincing the personality traits of several of the so-called factions. Think of her as a free thinker. Think of her as a rebel. Jeanine thinks of her as a threat to the future’s social order and wants her and others of her ilk eliminated.
Alliances are formed. Erudite Jeanine joins forces with evil Dauntless elements. Meanwhile, Tris (herself trained as a Dauntless) & Co. seek sanctuary with the Amityites, and later try to ally with the Candors and also those who have fallen through society’s cracks, called Factionless, and good-guy Dauntless elements. Got all that?
Seemingly the hope of the future, Tris is a basket case, wracked by guilt over the violent deaths of loved ones (mother, father, good friend) for which she feels responsible. Woodley does the best she can with the role, but the woe-is-me aspects of the character overwhelm everything else and make her not particularly sympathetic.
Betrayals and double-crosses and nick-of-time rescues abound. Bizarre psychological tortures are enthusiastically inflicted by Jeanine, balefully played by Winslet in a performance that’s as constricted as the tight blue dress she wears throughout the picture.
“Will someone please tell me what’s going on?” Tris cries at one point, and she could be speaking for the audience as the plot becomes ever more muddled.
Bottom line: for hard-core fans only.