Even as it makes no concession for people who may have not read Veronica Roth’s Divergent books, or who may have missed the first movie based on them entirely, Insurgent works better than its 2014 predecessor.
It moves faster, puts Tris (Woodley) firmly at the centre of things, and its action scenes sizzle with thrills and suspense. With all the justifications of this post-acolapyse world dealt with in the first film, Insurgent purely involves three women who are making the world around them spin. A middle film that has no beginning or an end can hardly ask for anything better.
Having laid the Abnegation faction to dust, Jeanine (Winslet) is hunting for divergents who pose a threat to the world as she knows it. She also wants one divergent strong enough to apply his/her mind’s powers to opening a box that holds the secrets of the founding fathers of this world. Tris, Four (James) and the others who had fled the annihilation of Abnegation last time are hiding out at Amity, before they are forced to make a run for it.
As they gather the remaining members of the Dauntless faction around them, the problem remains how to hold off Jeanine, who will stop at nothing including embedding transmitters into people to force them into suicide. In the meantime, Four, who guards Tris with his heart and all his well-muscled body, has a crucial reunion with the head of the faction-less (Watts).
The “remainder of humanity” confined to one city (Chicago), enclosed within a wall and divided into factions Erudite (the learned scientists), Candor (the honest jurists), Amity (the kind cultivators), Abnegation (the selfless administrators) and Dauntless (the fearless protectors), is surprisingly 20th century about its idea of clothing. All the fighters wear tight leather and fitted dresses, the more laid-back can be found in loose overalls. The lawbreakers lie somewhere in the middle.
The architecture is uniformly tall and colourless, except Amity’s people who stay in round, wooden structures.
Schwentke, who takes over from Neil Burger as director, knows how to tweak the story well enough to keep it running at a good pace into the third and fourth instalment. Deadly encounters are shot with minimal fuss, talk is kept to the adequate little, and Watts and Teller as the untrustworthy Peter bring in enough unpredictability to serve the story well. This also helps keep the plot from turning too maudlin which it threatens to become every time Woodley comes on screen, or even James.
Woodley is not bad, but she isn’t Jennifer Lawrence, who brings in just the right rebellious, resentful, angry streak to make us cheer for Katniss in The Hunger Games. James, for his part, is meant to just play second fiddle.
And that is perhaps the biggest thing to celebrate in Insurgent. It may be long before you see three women driving a film, entirely different from each other, and for entirely different reasons.