'Insurgent': What the Critics Are Saying

Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort and Kate Winslet are joined by Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer and Daniel Dae Kim in Robert Schwentke's 'Divergent' sequel.

Shailene Woodley is back in action as Tris Prior in Insurgent, the second film adaptation of Veronica Roth's best-selling YA books about a post-apocalyptic society divided into factions by personality traits. This time, the sequel is directed by Robert Schwentke.

Lionsgate's 3D follow-up to Neil Burger's 2014 release, Divergent, reunites Woodley with Theo James, Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort, Zoe Kravitz, Kate Winslet, Mekhi Phifer and Maggie Q, and adds Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer and Daniel Dae Kim.

See what top critics are saying about Insurgent:

The Hollywood Reporter's Sheri Linden says it is "more cohesive and involving" since the world has already been set up by the original film. Schwentke "brings a flair for taut and flavorful action, [and] 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 or to plaster over the holes in the premise. ... Streamlining Roth’s 500-plus-page book, three credited screenwriters — Brian Duffield, Akiva Goldsman and Mark Bomback — have reduced the number of characters and incidents while crafting dialogue that tends toward the thuddingly obvious. There are also tone-deaf moments like the use of the already somewhat dated word 'mankind' in voiceover narration, particularly jarring in a femme-centric story set in the future."

Still, "it’s in the simulation episodes that Schwentke and cinematographer Florian Ballhaus, whose work is supple throughout, pull out the VFX big guns, creating extraordinary hallucinatory visuals," and "Alec Hammond’s rich production design bringing the various factions to vivid life." And though "Schwentke somewhat understandably has a weakness for closeups of Woodley (those eyes! those lashes!), a distracting preponderance of tight shots of Tris welling up as she mulls her fate does nothing to heighten the emotional impact of her situation. Even so, Woodley is convincingly vulnerable and tough, and James makes Four’s stoic strength persuasive. The rest of the performers bring as much dimension as they can to single-note characters, among them Naomi Watts. ... Playing Peter "with a wise-ass swagger, Teller injects the glum doings with jolts of sarcastic energy."

Time's Richard Corliss explains, "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. ... with its repeat itinerary, Insurgent is less a sequel than a remake. The movie has an ordinary middle-chapter scenario, and less The Empire Strikes Back than Attack of the Clones. It does provide a few high-tech flourishes." Of the cast, "Winslet and Watts, though never more gorgeous or glowering, mostly just strike attitudes, as if referencing Madonna’s old 'Vogue' video. The younger actors have even less luck."

Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips says Schwentke "proves simpatico with the increased levels of onscreen violence in this second installment of the Divergent series. A rooftop ambush sequence rates as more urgent and exciting than anything in the first picture, and although absolutely nothing original occurs in the storytelling, the chase scenarios and virtual-reality simulation scenes are plentiful and confidently realized." Giving it two-and-a-half stars, he says, "The actors are more or less saving this franchise's bacon. Insurgent is a tick or two livelier than the first one."

New York Daily News' Joe Neumaier writes, "This absurd action-drama saga is below even its anemic debut, last year’s hit Divergent. ... [It] has a glib way with violence and retribution, something the Hunger Games films, with their stronger metaphor, avoid. Yes, it’s crucial for girls to have superheroines to look up to, but this stuff gets nasty." Woodley "is a humdrum action star. Her amiable yet laid-back style turns the film’s key moments from do-or-die into OK-whatever," James "is all snarls. Too bad Roth’s story gives him the heavy lifting," and "Watts is mysterious as the leader of 'factionless' fighters, perhaps because she looks like 1980s-era Stevie Nicks. As for Winslet, she’s efficient, but hasn’t much to do."

Time Out London's Cath Clarke notes, "What a waste of Woodley the Divergent franchise is turning out to be. As butt-kicking Tris, the Fault in Our Stars actor is the best thing about this second film. ... The plot makes zero sense and Woodley’s onscreen chemistry with scowling hottie Four is nonexistent. Terrible things happen but betrayals and twists pass without emotional impact. Still, with muscles rippling down her back and terror and heartbreak passing over her face, Tris is a character you can’t take your eyes off. No film with Woodley can be that bland."

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