"Insurgent" forges own identity in the "Divergent" series

"Insurgent" picks up right where "Divergent" left off. The movies, based on the young adult novels by Veronica Roth, follow Tris (Shailene Woodley), our "dauntless" heroine, who finds herself in an Amity camp where she, along with her paramour, Four (Theo James), her brother, Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and her rival, Peter (Miles Teller), are being sheltered from the alliance of the Erudite and Dauntless factions, whose goal it is to find and destroy all of the Divergents and restore order to the faction system. Tris doesn’t waste anytime proclaiming that she won’t stop until she kills Erudite leader, Jeanine (Kate Winslet), ignoring the fact that she had ample opportunity to do this at the end of "Divergent," but chose to let her live. Their safe harbor doesn’t last long as Dauntless forces invade the camp led by their psychopathic commander, Eric (Jai Courtney). They mean to test the entire camp with a new device that can weed out Divergents. While hiding, the position of our heroes is betrayed by Peter, which leads to a cliche chase scene.

After making their getaway, they soon find themselves in the Factionless headquarters where it is explained that Jeanine has come to possess a box said to contain a message from the founders. The box can only be opened by a Divergent who can pass simulations designed to test all five factions. However, no ordinary Divergent can do this, and the body count continues to grow as Jeanine searches for the special one that can.

In order to stop the Divergent genocide, Tris and friends set out to create an army by uniting the Factionless, the members of Dauntless who didn't join the dark side and any others who disagree with Jeanine's methods. This leads to a myriad of tough choices and political decisions that have characters flip-flopping sides and vying for trust.

The numerous action scenes are well done, combining heart racing intensity with excellent CGI work, but the director, Robert Schwentke, fails to do anything original. He takes a banal, cookie cutter approach leaving the story and actors to fend for themselves. The story is strong enough to carry itself but not all of the cast is up to the task.

Woodley logs an average performance. Her attempts to convey ferocity are unconvincing but she does shine during certain emotionally charged scenes. Unfortunately she is unable to create any chemistry with her love interest, James. It's hard to buy, even for a moment, that these two have any natural attraction toward one another, let alone the all-conquering love that they try to show, but can only tell.

James never seems to get a grasp on how stoic his character is. The intensity of his body language and facial expressions never matches his tone of voice, which leaves a constant dissonance between what is seen and what is heard. Elgort also puts forth a weak performance and fails to invoke any kind of feelings, good or bad, toward his character. Part of the blame can be put on the screenwriting, which falls short in a script filled with cliche one-liners, unrealistic dialogue and undeveloped characters.

The best performances come from the villains. Teller puts together a character whom you love to hate and wish would just move over to the side of the good guys. Courtney on the other hand creates a character that you just hate. I found that most of my time was spent rooting for him to get his comeuppance. Winslet reinforces her veteran status by putting forth another solid performance from beginning to end as the villain who believes herself to be doing what's best for society.

Appearances are also made by established names like Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer, and Ashley Judd but the latter two have minuscule roles while Watts puts in a decent effort as Evelyn, leader of the Factionless.

The series seems to be an allegory on how those who don't conform to society can scare the crap out of those that do and disrupt the order of things. The dystopian society attempts to stifle and smother these Divergents, but it is only a matter of time before their perfect filing system falls apart because no person is only one thing. In our own society, we label people as Democrats and Republicans or jocks and hipsters, but everybody contains pieces of all these and it’s not as simple as we would like it to be.

It is rare that the middle child of a movie trilogy doesn't simply act as a placeholder for the final installment but "Insurgent" has its own complete plot line that leaves a feeling of satisfaction with the ending and can stand alone, despite the fact that there’s more to come. As is sometimes the case with books turned into movies, it is catered toward those who read the books, leaving the filling in of certain plot holes and character relationships up to the imagination of those who haven't, but it does a good job at keeping those viewers from floundering too much, and the plot is well told.

"Insurgent" is a decently entertaining experience that is kept afloat by an interesting premise, well-developed setting and good action sequences. Fans of the series should be satisfied but it will probably fail to convert any non-believers.