By Jeff Labrecque
Updated March 20, 2015 at 12:00 PM EDT
Andrew Cooper


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The Divergent Series is The Breakfast Club of dystopian YA action franchises. In Veronica Roth’s post-apocalyptic world, society is divided into five factions: Dauntless (brave), Erudite (intellectual), Amity (peaceful), Candor (honest), and Abnegation (selfless). (The once-dominant Apathy was apparently killed off years before.) Ruling futuristic Chicago is Kate Winslet’s icy Erudite leader, Jeanine, and Shailene Woodley’s heroic Tris is a potent threat to her rule—and perhaps the key to control—since she’s one of the rare Divergents, members of society who qualify for multiple factions and thus have amazing college-application essays.

“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,” writes EW‘s Kevin P. Sullivan, in his review of Insurgent. “The sequel doesn’t spend too much time worried about the specifics of why Tris and Four (Theo James) are on the run from Jeanine, or why they want to kill her. That’s just what’s happening.”

Mess with the bull, get the horns. Or something.

Based on the second book in Roth’s trilogy, but straying further from the books than last year’s franchise-starter, Insurgent amps up the effects-driven action with Robert Schwentke, who directed the slick action-thriller RED—as well as the dud R.I.P.D.—taking over for Neil Burger. The sequel, the second of four Divergent films, welcomes back Ansel Elgort and Miles Teller, while introducing new characters, including a factionless leader played by Naomi Watts. (Apathy survives!)

Read Sullivan’s entire review, as well as a round-up of other notable critics’ reviews, below.

Kevin P. Sullivan (Entertainment Weekly)

“[Woodley] 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.”

Mick LaSalle (San Francisco Chronicle)

“If you want to make a million dollars, write a teen novel in which a seemingly unremarkable teenage girl becomes the romantic obsession of an insanely handsome young man. (If you want to make a billion dollars, give her two insanely handsome young men, as in the Twilight series.) Like Bella, Tris is just awesome, but at least Woodley makes you half believe it, with her unclouded aura. Looking at her is like looking into clear water.”

David Edelstein (New York)

“Director Robert Schwentke stages the climactic, vaguely S&M setpiece—in which Tris hangs suspended from multiple electrodes plugged into her body—so sensationally that you can almost forget the silly, plodding script, which is like Flash Gordon with dystopian pretensions and creepy politics. Insurgent is not a very good movie, but it’s better than it needs to be.”

Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times)

“[Schwentke, cinematographer Florian Ballhaus, production designer Alex Hammond and second unit director and visual effects supervisor James Madigan have] made Insurgent into less of a youthful romance and more of an action-heavy science fiction story, the kind of rat-a-tat tale that used to star grown-ups before teens ruled the box office. The result—though admittedly it’s a low bar to clear—is a more effective, adult-friendly film than its predecessor.”

Peter Debruge (Variety)

“Considering that Insurgent is meant to represent the series’ great civil war, it all comes across feeling like a tempest in a teapot: a glorified rehash of what came before, garnished with the promise of what lies in store. … Perhaps instead of splitting the third book into two movies, they should have considered combining the first two into one.”

Insurgent has two hurdles to scale: building on the promise of the first film and permanently anointing Woodley as the industry’s ferocious deadpan goddess. The picture comes up short in both categories. It’s wandering, not urgent, while indicating that all-Shailene-all-the-time can be too much of a pretty good thing.”

Sheri Linden (Hollywood Reporter)

“There’s no question that the feature is a leaner, meaner affair than its predecessor. That’s not enough, though, to counterbalance the often oppressive self-seriousness (though Miles Teller gives it a welcome shot) or to plaster over the holes in the premise.”

Manohla Dargis (The New York Times)

“The standout among the younger performers is Miles Teller, whose to-the-screen-born poise and controlled nervous energy make a jolting contrast to the pouts and droopiness of some of the other secondary male leads…. Woodley has a talent for carving out a little pocket of intimacy on-screen, which is why she’s good at bringing you into a character’s head space. She too has appeal, though it’s clear that, even after two movies, she isn’t as much driving this franchise as catching a ride.”

Tom Russo (Boston Globe)

“The eye-opener is catching Miles Teller, straight off of his Whiplash breakout, working his edgy Cusack vibe as Tris’s button-pushing foil, Peter. He was around for Divergent, but he really puts a wry stamp on the material this time. Even in scenes with Winslet, whose character still can’t quite polish all of her thinking out loud to underlings, Teller is the one holding our attention.”

Michael O’Sullivan (Washington Post)

“There is, however, a certain urgency to the action that will prevent most people from noticing the film’s flaws. And there are several nice performances, especially by Miles Teller, returning as Tris’s Dauntless nemesis Peter, and new cast member Naomi Watts, playing Four’s Machiavellian (and factionless) mother. Shifting loyalties and ambiguous motives keep the viewer off balance in a good way.”

Connie Ogle (Miami Herald)

“Unfortunately, Insurgent can’t quite live up to its intriguing set up. Even if you’re curious about it, the movie is often plodding and frequently nonsensical, with action that never feels novel or exciting. There’s a been-there, done-that feel as well as the sense that we’re in a bit of a holding pattern at times, awaiting the trippy surprise ending, which sets the course for the rest of the series.”

The Divergent Series: Insurgent

Overall Metacritic rating (1-100): 42

Rotten Tomatoes: 34 percent

Rated: PG-13

Length: 119 minutes

Director: Robert Schwentke

Starring Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet

Distributor: Lionsgate

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