Shailene Woodley stars alongside a rumpled handful of love interests from previous films in Insurgent, the second installment in the Divergent series, based on the YA novels by Veronica Roth. It opens at theaters everywhere Friday.
Woodley plays Tris Prior. If you haven’t seen the first film, she’s a "divergent," an anomaly in her society, which is separated into five factions to preserve order and peace.
In practical terms, being divergent just means Tris is both athletic and friendly at the same time. The faction system, and the degree to which choice vs. inherited traits determine group identity, have always been confusing questions with the Divergent franchise, at least for men, but the logical holes gape ever wider in the sequel.
Storywise, Tris and her boyfriend Tobias are on the run from the authorities but nonetheless attempt to lead a revolution to persuade everybody that the faction system has got to go.
Meantime, the all-powerful president-type, Jeanine (Kate Winslet), wants to unlock a powerful device which she thinks will contain a message about the benefits of the faction system. She desperately wants to preserve the totalitarian state, and it's unclear if she genuinely supports the status quo, or just is addicted to her power. Like Orwell's bad guys, at any rate, she has been perpetrating violence and blaming it on her detractors.
This device, though: It's an elaborately engraved cylinder which only a divergent can unlock by "passing" simulations meant to confirm one's citizenship in one of the five factions. Best not to scrutinize this situation too thoroughly, but only a Super-divergent person — "100 percent" divergent, as noted by convenient gizmos Jeanine's henchmen wield to find candidates for the simulations — can unlock it.
Much of the film actually takes place within these action-packed simulations (any shot that you saw in the trailer of Tris breaking through glass or leaping through fire wasn't, strictly speaking, actually happening). And much like the simulations, the film itself generally feels like a cross between the Hunger Games and the Matrix. Indeed the production design at times looks identical.
Miles Teller provides a few moments of levity as the jerk sidekick with ambiguous loyalties, but most of the supporting performances are unmemorable at best.
Woodley is terrific and prone to tears as always, but her relationships with Teller in The Spectacular Now and Ansel Elgort in The Fault in Our Stars were far superior. In an early scene, when Tris, her current beaux, her brother (Elgort) and their buddy (Teller) sit around a picnic table in the serene commune-faction known as Amity — "go with happiness," its members say, as if drugged — you get the deep and unshakeable sense that these are not characters at all, but merely actors, almost all of them between the ages of 20 and 30 — everyone in this future-Chicago universe appears to be a potential reader of the Divergent series — begrudgingly pretending to exist in a goofy dystopia for the benefit of a paycheck.
Fans of the series may enjoy this one — and that's a substantial demographic — but others will likely leave scratching their heads.