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Marina Antunes [Celluloid 03.19.15] post apocalyptic scifi action adventure dystopic

Before we go any further we need to get something out of the way. If you haven't seen Divergent, the first in this soon-to-be four movie franchise, or you don't like being dropped into a movie in the middle of the action with no explanation of how the characters are where they are and why, you might as well stop while you're ahead because Insurgent is going to aggravate you. A lot.

Insurgent picks up shortly after the events of the first movie. Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James) and Tris' brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) are on the run from the alliance, led by the formidable Jeanine (Kate Winslet kicking ass with nothing more than an icy look). The trio are forced out of hiding and into the city in search of the rest of their dauntless comrades but on the way, they're cornered into a couple of tough situations, forcing them to align themselves with people they don't fully trust in order to survive. Tris, believing she has to turn herself into the alliance in order to save her faction, leaves Four and her friends behind and heads into the lions' den to face off against Jeanine in a mental game of wits.

That may all have sounded like gibberish to you but the truth is that the universe of Veronica Roth's novels on which the movies are based is actually pretty good (at least the two I've read are good. I've heard mixed reviews on the third) and the first movie, though not exactly stupendous, was adequately made on a modest budget by Neil Burger, a director who, generally speaking, is more interested in drama than action. This worked well for the drama heavy world building of Divergent. Insurgent, on the other hand, is an all together different beast.

Where the first movie was drama heavy, this second instalment is essentially non-stop action from the first frame and RED director Robert Schwentke handles the action and effects heavy sequences with panache and though Insurgent has some gorgeous feats of action and effects on display, the story itself falters.

It's a hot mess of personal struggle and one woman's selfless sacrifice for the better good (I prefer this franchise's approach to the self-sacrifice theme far more than The Hunger Games') and though fans will revel in Tris' inner conflict and the simulations that see her facing her deepest darkest secrets, the average movie goer will likely scoff at this inner struggle. The scenes and emotions that read so well on paper are ridiculous on the screen and the movie is only saved in these moments of cheesiness by the talented young actors. Shailene Woodley is fantastic in the role of Tris and she pulls off those questionable scenes of drama-bordering-on-melodrama with an earnestness and subtlety that is rather remarkable and a testament to her talent. For their parts, the trio of supporting male actors - Theo James, Ansel Elgort and Miles Teller – are all commendable. Heck, everyone is great even when their characters are given nearly nothing to do (Winslet, as good as she is, is a wasted villain), which keeps the drama from bogging down the movie.

I liked Divergent well enough, mostly because the acting surpassed the material, and thought the same is true here, Insurgent has the added bonus of rather spectacular and exciting action sequences and all in all, makes for a more entertaining movie. It's lack of set-up and clear conclusion clearly marks this as a second movie that doesn't stand well on its own but as part of the ongoing franchise, it's a step-up from the original and for my money, a far more enjoyable movie than any of The Hunger Games movies to date.

Insurgent opens March 20.

Recommended Release: Divergent

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