Chaotic nonsense: Sequel ‘Insurgent’ is action-packed but incoherent

Theo James, Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley debate the future of society.

Two and a half stars

Insurgent Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet. Directed by Robert Schwentke. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday.

The world of the Divergent movies (based on the novels by Veronica Roth) essentially makes no sense, but at least the second movie in the series, Insurgent, isn’t burdened with having to explain all of it. That exposition (about a society divided into five “factions” based on personality and aptitude) often bogged down last year’s Divergent, but Insurgent rarely has time to stop and explain things. That’s good, because the central thrust of the movie is just as incoherent as it was the last time, but at least the increased profile and budget mean that director Robert Schwentke (replacing Neil Burger) is able to do more to distract from it.

Once again, the hero of this dystopian future is Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley), a so-called “divergent” who doesn’t fit into any of the five main factions. After being discovered for what she truly is and incurring the wrath of Jeanine (Kate Winslet), the coldly calculating despot who runs the Erudite faction, Tris spends most of Insurgent on the run from people who want to kill and/or capture her. That gives Schwentke the opportunity to stage more extensive action scenes than in the previous movie, and Insurgent is often more exciting and more eye-catching than its predecessor.

Too bad its characters aren’t any more interesting. The romance between Tris and the brooding Four (Theo James) barely registers in this installment, and James once again makes very little impression as the romantic lead. Woodley is stronger, but even she can’t sell Tris’ underdeveloped character arc, which involves forgiving herself for the extreme measures she’s had to take to survive. With an expanded role, Winslet gives the film’s most entertaining performance, luxuriating in Jeanine’s aloof malevolence, and Miles Teller brings a bit of liveliness to his role as a sarcastic opportunist. New additions to the cast include Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer and Daniel Dae Kim, but none of them is given enough material to make much of an impression.

The plot hinges on a meaningless thingamajig that holds the secrets to the entire faction-based society, and once again much of the action involves tiresome fake-outs that take place in dreams or simulations. It all leads to a surprisingly conclusive ending for a movie that’s meant to set up a huge two-part finale. Tris’ story may not make a whole lot of sense, but by the end of Insurgent, it seems to have wrapped up entirely. Perhaps this should be the cue for the filmmakers to quit while they’re ahead.

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