It’s not often that a sequel outshines the original but Insurgent does just that. The second film in the Divergent series, there are several aspects of this film that exceed the first, the main one being pace and length. Both films are long at 139 minutes and 119 minutes respectively but where Divergent lags at times, weighed down and caught up in explanation and detail, Insurgent surges forward, dauntlessly propelling us to its climactic conclusion, which is full of action and surprisingly, emotion.
Tris, her brother Caleb, her boyfriend Four and her Dauntless nemesis Peter have escaped the city and taken refuge in a local hippie cooperative. Their plan is to lay low until they can discover the location of their Dauntless clan and return to them. But Erudite leader Jeanine (Kate Winslet) has her guards out hunting for Divergents, specifically Tris, and therefore, their sanctuary is short-lived.
When Peter turns on them and Caleb decides to return to his faction, Tris and Four must forge onward together. Framed for the attack on Abnegation (in the first film) they travel to Candor, where they are reunited with their faction and promptly arrested. Tris and Four then have to prove their innocence in order to get to Jeanine, who they have decided must die.
Unencumbered by the weight of premise and set-up that largely stunted the first film, the characters are more developed in this film and relationships are free to be tried and tested.
Emotionally broken, Tris has a lot of stuff to work through and it seems that ultimately her greatest enemy is herself. No longer the self-doubting, anxious newbie that she is for much of the first film, she is now, in a word; badass, but she is also hopelessly conflicted. The strength of Tris, however, is one of the most rewarding features of this film. Tris is a strong, independent, smart, empathetic, haunted female character and quite frankly Hollywood, it’s about time. I absolutely love the character of Beatrice ‘Tris’ Prior. She is not just the protagonist of the Divergent series but its heroine and its champion.
Much of this is thanks to the writing, however, one cannot overlook the powerful performance of Shailene Woodley. Tris spends much of the film fighting and crying. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a character cry so much and Woodley brings both a strength and a self-loathing to her character that makes her both raw and relatable; a poster girl for strength and self-worth amidst surmounting odds. Tris does what is right rather than doing what is easy.
Theo James will no doubt continue his teenage heartthrob status in his role as Tris’ counterpart; Four, and he too delivers a strong performance. Miles Teller is deliciously wicked as the film’s Judas, Peter. Kate Winslet is poised, verging on possessed as the obsessive Jeanine and Ansel Elgort is bittersweet as brother Caleb. Naomi Watts and Octavia Spencer also bring strong performances to the mix. But at the end of the day, it’s nothing but Woodley. It’s Woodley that carries this film and Woodley that will sell it.
The special FX veer from exceptional to ordinary but are mostly the former. There are a couple of script elements that do not fly but there are enough elements that do to make us forgiving of this. The set and costume design for the Factionless verge on Pirates of the Caribbean but thankfully the scenes are short. It’s still a little long, indulgent, and predictable but all the elements fit together to make this an intriguing puzzle with characters you honestly care about and a world you hope will never exist.
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