While many will fall over themselves drawing comparisons between The Hunger Games and Divergent series, it is far more interesting to consider that the first few frames of Insurgent feature Shailee Woodley with three previous on-screen boyfriends. Is that a coincidence or the sheer manifestation of how the actress has become this decade’s avatar of girl-next-door accessibility? It’s a trait that is well exploited in Insurgent to create a dynamic performance as Woodley’s heroine fluctuates effortlessly and believably through vulnerability and deadly competence.
If you really want to have a Divergent/Hunger Games debate, notice how far one goes to keep its heroine’s hands clean while the undercard isn’t afraid to get down and dirty. It is something to see a movie like this that walks the line perfectly between not being too violent and never shying away from violence either.
Is Insurgent mandatory? No. Is it particularly original? No. Is it boring? Absolutely not. Its apocalyptic premise with young kids with ridiculous names on the run rebelling against the authoritarianism (complete with big name older actors possibly slumming it as authority figures like Octavia Spencer and Kate Winslet) is something you’ve seen before, and will see again, especially if the next chapter of this trilogy is dragged out into two movies. Its dry message about conformity and such is unlikely to even reach the heights of a movie you should remember last year about Lego blocks.
But you have to give it up when a movie like this can get the action and pacing this right. At all times the pace and momentum is right where it has to be, never becoming an exhausting hail of bullets and explosions and painful one-upmanship but never falling into doldrums and outstaying its welcome either.
The speed and ease in which developments fly by does reveal how thin they are given a second look. No one character or performance ever stands out as a liability. But Miles Teller’s two timing smart ass is one of the few really entertaining performances in a large cast of characters the film doesn’t have time for. We’re introduced to new characters and relationship dynamics that in theory could result in engaging drama and conflict but only circle out as bland and functional. The pace is so brisk here the motivations of many characters can fell like it was left in the desk, especially if you’re a little fussy on everything that happened in the first movie or never read the books. Twists and turns only land as random as there is no time to earn them.
The original Divergent made a fun breathless crowd pleasing but missable action movie out of its clichés and silly premise. The sequel is more of the same and suffers the dimnishing returns of a concept straining on after it has already made its statement. It doesn’t have the character to become a genre classic. But it gets down to business well enough to become a worthwhile way to blow a rainy Sunday afternoon.
For more articles like this, take a look at our Fantasy & Science Fiction and Reviews page.