You know that a tough young woman means business when she chops off her long, flowing hair with a pair of dull scissors. Of course, when it happens in the movies, such a cut just ends up looking salon-cute, instead of alarming with a hint of cray-cray. But that is where Insurgent picks up. Tris (Shailene Woodley) and her hottie boyfriend Four (Theo James) are hiding out in the peaceful, hippie-love pastoral setting of the Amity faction, led by Johanna (the always awesome Octavia Spencer, who manages to be badass, even if she techinically should be placing daisies into barrels of machine guns). It doesn’t take long for Jeanine’s Erudite soldiers, led by Dauntless nemesis Eric (Jai Courtney) to track down the fugitives, and for a pretty much non-stop 20-minute opening chase sequence to begin. Courtney runs like a freakin’ Terminator, for goodness sake (and lucky for us, he is in the next Terminator installment!). I admit, by the time several characters threw themselves onto a moving train, my palms were sweating.
But this is only the beginning. Tris and Four run and run a lot. They get shot at, and they very often get into full-on, meat-pounding fistfights, and come away with nary a bruise on their pretty faces. There are indeed many impressive shows of athleticism in Insurgent, and we do get to see Tris’ bare, muscled shoulders quite often. We get to see Tris and Four have many meaningful hugs, and have (thankfully) only one love scene.
More impressive than the chemistry-free couple however, is Kate Winslet’s evil Jeanine, with her hair severely pulled back, and her smart blue dress and high heels. She was a hot baddie in Divergent, and I think everyone will be pleased to see her again here, speaking coldly… firmly. But I digress (diverge?). Jeanine is out to capture and/or kill all the fugitive divergents… but not until she has harnessed each and every one into an octopus-like simulator/torture device. See, Jeanine has a magic, ancient box that only a true divergent can unlock by passing all five faction’s simulations. This box has a message from society’s ancestors from 200 years ago. For some reason, Jeanine thinks that perhaps opening the box will give her the powers of The One Ring or something (whereas in my head, I was just thinking of that episode of Star Trek where the secret message would probably just turn out to be a recipe for biscuits). Who do you think is the truest of the true divergents? Tris, of course.
Second installments are never easy, especially when the second installment ends in a way where my friend, unfamiliar with the books, leaned over and asked if that was it? There weren’t more movies, right? No, there are. In fact, they are Mockingjay-ing it, and breaking the third book of the Divergent trilogy into two more movies. As the dystopian society’s factions crumble, we are not really sure who to root for, just who to root against. Tris and Four don’t seem to have a plan, except to take down Jeanine. And new to this film is the wild-card of Evelyn (Naomi Watts), leader of the factionless, and Four’s long-lost mother who looks more like his sister. But unlike some other recent dystopian films, this series has muddier, unformed politics, making it less edgy as social commentary, and more of a parade of beautiful young people beating the crap out of each other. That said, the climax of the film involves some pretty cool CGI simulations of outrageous, gravity-defying tests of survival. My friends felt that Insurgent was a diverting thrill ride of a movie. I, on the other hand, was just just wiping my palms, wondering why there wasn’t a deeper meaning to all the violence.