By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The characters are on the run, and so is the movie. But it knows how to slow down when it needs to.
Insurgent, the sequel to Divergent, entertains at about the same level of quality as its predecessor, which had the added benefit of its central concept being fresh and unfamiliar.
Of course, the followup is also relieved of the responsibility of dispensing all the complicated exposition of the first film.
But both are sparked by the impressive presence and poise of rising star Shailene Woodley, who returns in the central role and again acquits herself admirably.
The civil war between factions that began in last year’s Divergent — a science fiction drama set in a bleak and gritty, dystopian, futuristic Chicago — continues in this second installment of the franchise, which is based on the best-selling trilogy of Young Adult novels by Veronica Roth.
In the original, people are divided and integrated into five distinct factions in a caste system based on a particular personality virtue: Erudite (intelligence), Abnegation (selflessness), Dauntless (bravery), Amity (peacefulness),and Candor (honesty).
All 16-year-olds must irreversibly decide whether to stay in their family’s faction or switch to another for the rest of their lives and then undergo intense physical and psychological tests.
Woodley plays Beatrice “Tris” Potter, who went through an identity crisis because she didn’t fit squarely into any of the five factions and was thus a “Divergent,” a forbidden designation that had to remain secret or her life would be in danger.
And in the underbelly of this society is a sinister plot involving the corrupt government.
So Tris picked Dauntless, the fearless faction that protects the city, and was trained by Tobias “Four” Eaton, played by Theo James.
When Erudite staged a coup to overthrow Abnegation’s ranks as enforcers, Tris and Four found themselves fighting in the civil war that now engulfs them and threatens to tear their world apart.
Now, as the sequel begins, they’re fugitives on the run, looking for the truthful “why” behind all this. And hunting them is Jeanine Matthews, played by Kate Winslet, the leader of the Erudite faction, a corrupt governor bent on destroying all Divergents by brainwashing others into murdering them.
Once again, the adapted screenplay explores such themes as family, community, rebellion, freedom, conformity, courage, betrayal, the desire to belong, and the need to make choices.
And joining the cast are notables Octavia Spencer as the Amity leader and Naomi Watts as Four’s estranged mother.
Robert Schwentke (Flightplan, The Time Traveler’s Wife, RED, R.I.P.D.) takes over the directorial reins from Neil Burger (who serves this time as an executive producer) and works from a script by screenwriters new to the project (Brian Duffield, Akiva Goldsman, and Mark Bomback) that steps up the action quotient a bit.
Aiming to be a franchise à la Twilight and Hunger Games, Insurgent is sufficiently absorbing and visceral, as was its predecessor, teen-targeted science fiction about faction friction and defection that speaks directly to its target audience.
But although the second film is a “middle” story, it does not register merely as a bridge to somewhere, but as a fully realized and contained vision and story.
And coming over the next two years: the two-part finale. No, it’s not called “Detergent,” but Allegiant: Part 1 and Allegiant: Part 2.
Will this four-movie series end up feeling like two movies stretched out of shape into four? Maybe. But for now we’ll rebel against 3 stars out of 4. Divergent was slightly more urgent, but Insurgent still absorbs and resonates.