When settling into the second movie of a dystopian YA series, there are a few things you just have to accept. The rules of the world—which are jammed into the first five minutes, like Kate Winslet’s broadcast announcement here—have been established in the first film, and there’s really no point in complaining about them. The rules are the rules, even if the tenets of that post-apocalyptic society, like in Veronica Roth’s Divergent series, happen to be kind of dumb.
Yes, the so-simple-it’s-confusing social structure of future Chicago has returned for Insurgent, along with its five personality-based factions: Dauntless (tough), Erudite (smart but mostly evil), Amity (peaceful, earth-tone-loving), Candor (honest and stylish), and Abnegation (selfless). Just to make matters more confusing, there are the people who fit into too many factions, Divergents, and the people who don’t fit into any, the Factionless. Thankfully, with this system already explained (ad nauseam) in Divergent, the sequel doesn’t spend too much time worried about the specifics of why Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) are on the run from Jeanine (Winslet), or why they want to kill her. That’s just what’s happening.
Taken for what it is, Insurgent is a vast improvement over the franchise’s first installment, mostly thanks to expansion in two arenas: budget and scope. Often, the two are one and the same, as the action moves from the handful of cheap-looking Dauntless sets to the rather complex, built-out worlds of the other factions. The straightforward dialogue scenes never last too long, explicitly laying out everyone’s motivations and carrying us through to the next action sequence—each of which gets some serious help from Robert Schewentke, whose direction feels downright masterful compared to the fights in Divergent.
But most of the credit belongs to Woodley. She is undoubtedly one of the finest young actors working right now, and appears to be much more comfortable here than in the first movie. One scene in particular forces Tris to publicly and emotionally expose herself, and the entirety of the sequence’s weight rests squarely on Woodley’s shoulders (or her face, I guess). It’s an amazing feat of acting. In a single take, she makes the audience believe—even if just for a moment—that hidden beneath the silly faction system and the ridiculous things Kate Winslet is forced to say, there is at least one real person in this story. B