Review: 'Insurgent' starring Shailene Woodley, Kate Winslet, and Theo James

The franchise that began last year with Divergent is now officially known as "The Divergent Series", which seems overly complicated and unnecessary. That was pretty much how most felt about the completely illogical premise, which takes us into the far flung future where the world is split up into factions based on ideology. Okay, whatever. The first film languished in trying, and failing spectacularly, to explain it all in a way that made sense before finally giving up. Oddly enough, the bombastic and far more satisfying sequel Insurgent succeeds because it doesn't bother explaining a darn thing.

Shailene Woodley is back as Tris Prior, and much like The Hunger Games this franchise benefits greatly from an emotive, instantly likable lead actress. Tris and her lover Four (Theo James) are still on the run from Erudite leader, Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet), who wants to wipe out anybody who might be "divergent", meaning they don't fit in any faction. The divergents are a threat to their entire way of life, although the reasons why remain a dangled mystery.

But there's hardly time to worry about all of that because incoming director Robert Schwentke focuses his energies on bigger and crazier action. The film is basically one long chase with Tris, Four, her intellectual (meaning wussy) brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort), and smarmy bastard Peter (Miles Teller) constantly on the run from armed members of Dauntless (led by a vicious Jai Courtney). They flee through the woods...they flee through the busted up streets...they flee at night they flee at day...it never ends. The pace is so breathless that it becomes difficult to stop and take stock of how we're meant to feel about these characters. Four remains a brooding cipher, working wonders for those who see him as an enigmatic heartthrob, but Tris is more complicated. The chip on her shoulder has turned into a boulder, and she's been understandably ripped apart by death, betrayal (it gets worse here), and the weight of responsibility. However, other than numerous scenes of Woodley fighting and bawling her eyes out we don't get as much from Tris as we need to. Blame the screenplay (credited to three writers) which is painfully on-the-nose about everything. To put a fine point on her raging internal conflict, Tris actually goes toe-to-toe with a literal copy of herself. Yeah, we get it. It all would threaten to take itself way too seriously if it weren't for Peter's deadly mocking wit.

That said; the simulated torture Tris endures is where Insurgent's robust visual effects really shine. Schwentke has completely shed Divergent's drab look and gone for sheer glorious spectacle. The highlights are every time Tris literally shatters the simulated world around her, raining shards of mystical glass everywhere. Another has her scaling a burning building miles above the devastated city.

Fans of Veronica Roth's novels, which diminished in quality as they went along, will miss Tris' inner dialogue which clued us into so much about her. Gone are her conflicted feelings towards Four and her parents, plus the reasons for her self-sacrificing nature. There are other significant changes from the book (especially between Tris and Four) that some will despise, but overall what gets left out helps to streamline an extremely messy narrative. Multiple characters are introduced who presumably will play a bigger role in the final two films. Naomi Watts makes the most of her brief time as Evelyn; Four's estranged mother and the steely leader of the "Factionless". Octavia Spencer plays Johanna, the serene mouthpiece for the peaceful flower children of the Amity faction. When Jeanine's goons come kicking down their doors they aren't willing to put up a fight. Daniel Dae Kim impresses as the leader of the Candor group, who use truth serum as their weapon of choice.

Strangely, the film ends on a note that suggests the end of the franchise, although there are actually two movies left. Those who have read the final book will probably scratch their heads trying to figure out how the story can be stretched so far. There isn't a ton of plot to be found in Insurgent as it is, so we can expect a ton of filler in at least one chapter of Allegiant. For the purposes of Insurgent, trimming the fat has made the film faster and more exciting than Divergent. While the franchise still has its flaws and doesn't reach the level of true YA heir apparent The Maze Runner, those who are already invested will leave anxious to see what comes next.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5