“Go with happiness”, Tris Prior and her Dauntless renegades are told by their peace-loving Amity brothers and sisters at the beginning of Insurgent. Whether you will do the same rather depends on what you’re expecting from this follow-up to Divergent, the $288 million-grossing adaptation of the first book in Veronica Roth’s bestselling trilogy of YA novels. You want more of the same? You got it. Hoping for something radical? Forget it.
The middle ‘bridging’ episode of any trilogy can always be a trial, as it must expand without losing the focus of the original. Insurgent has clearly taken instruction from the Panem blueprint. Echoing The Hunger Games, which switched directors for its second instalment, Flight Plan’s Robert Schwentke takes over from Neil Burger. With the world already set up, the German journeyman makes few changes, which should please the purists.
Returning us to a broken-down, walled-in Chicago which remains divided into five factions, the story picks up immediately where Divergent left off. Tris (Shailene Woodley) is on the run after foiling the scheming Jeanine (Kate Winslet), the power-suit-sporting leader of the Erudite faction. With her are romantic-interest Four (Theo James), brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and cocksure Peter (Miles Teller), and they’ve found temporary shelter at the HQ of those veggie-and-sandal types, Amity.
While Jeanine is desperate to bring them in – not least because she has a weird-looking secret box she needs Tris to open – the group look to forge allies wherever they can. As they attempt to spread the word about Jeanine’s machinations, it’s a breathlessly told mix of betrayals and demons, not least when Four encounters estranged mother Evelyn (Naomi Watts), leader of the Factionless group of outsiders, who is spoiling for an alliance with Tris and her Dauntless crew to smash the system.
Disappointingly, the action scenes feel tame. Only one sequence, set during a ‘simulation’ trial Tris must endure with a rotating, on-fire building, causes any heart murmurs. Certainly nothing – in the real-world element, at least – rivals, say, the zip-line sequence from the original for sheer visceral thrills. The legions of soldiers, led by Jai Courtney’s Dauntless beefcake Eric, suffer from that terrible Hollywood disease of off-target-itus, firing dozens of rounds without hitting a soul.
At least a close-cropped Woodley, muscled-up and meaning business, makes for a convincing opponent. Pity the same can’t really be said for bland co-stars James or Elgort who, like their counterparts in The Hunger Games, are overshadowed by their leading lady. But with Teller on-song as the side-switching Peter and Winslet as good value as ever, the cast is more lively than lethargic. And with revelations right into the final act, it’ll keep you engaged, if not enthralled, all the way to the closing credits.