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Insurgent Review: Shailene Woodley Excels in the “No-BS Heroine Role,” But Divergent Sequel Doesn’t Stand Out

Shailene Woodley and Theo James
Shailene Woodley excels in the "no-BS heroine role" in Insurgent, but the Divergent sequel just doesn't stand out, writes Us Weekly's film critic Mara Reinstein -- read her review 

In theaters Friday, Mar. 20

2 stars (out of 4 stars)

Help! I’ve been infected with a movie disease. Highly contagious and serious, it is my duty to alert you about this affliction. It’s called Young Adult Dystopian Fatigue Syndrome.

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You or someone you love may have already been afflicted with YADFS. A few symptoms: an emotional detachment to watching humorless teens shooting each other with guns, while the heroes somehow manage to dodge every bullet; boredom and weariness as the characters form armies and plot rebellions against the heartless enemy; and frustration with the ambiguous cliffhanger — though anyone who read the popular best seller source material already knows the end game.

I was immune after two Hunger Games films, The Maze Runner, The Giver, and Divergent. I believe I contacted YADFS after The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 in November. But it didn’t turn into a stage-five problem until I restlessly sat through the Divergent sequel, Insurgent. While neither a disastrous nor an astounding effort, this film stands out because it doesn’t stand out at all. It’s merely Frankenstein-ed from its elders. Oh no, hold on, I feel a familiar plot summary coming on . . .

Insurgent Miles Teller
Theo James, Miles Teller, and Shailene Woodley in Insurgent

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We’re still in a futuristic Chicago society, where people are divided into five factions based on skill and aptitude. (Abnegation = selfless; Erudite = intelligent; Candor = honest; Dauntless = brave; Amity = peaceful). Tris (Shailene Woodley) is a unique “divergent” who does not conform into any category — and therefore extremely dangerous. At the end of Divergent, she and her sexy boyfriend/mentor Four (Theo James), along with her brother (Ansel Elgort) and semi-ally Peter (Miles Teller), are on the lam from sinister, ambitious Erudite leader Jeanine (Kate Winslet).

The sequel picks up three days later, with the crew hiding out in the Amity faction. The harmony doesn’t last long: Jeanine is out to get Tris, and she has summoned up her own personal brute squad — former members of Dauntless — to search and destroy. But then Jeanine puts a bounty on her: Seems the special Tris is the only person capable of opening up a magical box that may or may not help Erudites rule the world and get rid of the Divergents once and for all. That said, if Jeanine is so uniformly feared and the other factions want to help Tris & Co., doesn’t that make everyone divergent in some way? (No wonder the audience chuckled after Tris tells Four, “I know this doesn’t make any sense!”)

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Trainloads of action abound (literally), but it’s essentially generic combat. Punch, point, shoot, kill, get out of the way in the nick of time depending on your billing in the closing credits. Still, like Divergent, the film shows off some truly nifty special effects when it delves into Tris’ subconscious. Deep into the narrative, she must decipher whether her visions of her loved are legit or just faux “SIMs” planted by Jeanine. It’s a breathtaking, 3-D-enhanced virtual world.

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Insurgent Ansel Elgort
Ansel Elgort in Insurgent

Woodley excels in these sequences as well. The former TV dramedy star was palpably uncomfortable in the no-BS heroine role in the first go-round. Here, she’s a true muscular, sneering force. (Maybe it’s the short hair? That old ponytail screamed “poor girl’s Katniss.”). It’s mystifying that Woodley flails when she attempts to drum up tears revealing her deepest, darkest secrets to the Candor tribe. It’s shockingly unconvincing. And this same actress, after all, turned in her most moving work in last year’s Kleenex-fest, The Fault in Our Stars. All that screen time with her Stars’ soul mate Elgort only serve as a wistful reminder of Woodley’s more-impressive film resume. For that matter, so do her scenes with The Spectacular Now love Teller. Now that was daring, original filmmaking. But then (arms stretched. . . .yawn. . . . .)

So far, there is no cure for YADFS. In fact, two more Divergent films are in the pipeline through 2017. Let’s just hope the health of these installments — and its counterparts — shows marked improvement. Because, ultimately, no matter how rough these people have it in the future, we’re the ones who really suffer.

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