INSURGENT. Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort, Kate Winslet. Directed by Robert Schwentke. 119 minutes. Rated M (Science fiction themes and violence).

Some stunning design and a very good cast add colour to the proceedings, but with a franchise built around a society which persecutes people for being different, this safe effort feels like life imitating art. Though this sequel certainly takes more risks than its bland predecessor ‘Divergent’, it all still feels pretty familiar, and the irony is not lost on this reviewer.

The aforementioned society is a dystopia where citizens are divided into factions governed by their traits – Amity, Abnegation, Candour, Dauntless and Erudite. Those that fit into more than one category are labelled Divergent, and those without a home are the Factionless. We pick up where the last film left off – renegade Divergent Tris (Shailene Woodley) and her boyfriend Four (Theo James) are on the run from the Erudite, who have just wiped out the Abnegation faction with the help of some militant Dauntless members. Those uncertain about the events of the previous film will likely get lost.

Hiding with the Amity clan then the Factionless, the pair have only each other for support. They set out to locate the remainder of the Dauntless who did not side with Jeanine (Kate Winslet), the evil leader of Erudite set on usurping the Abnegation government. Meanwhile however, Jeanine has located a box from the founding fathers of their civilisation, and requires a Divergent to pass aptitude tests of each faction to unlock it. As Tris and Four attempt to rally an army to take down Erudite, Jeanine is ruthlessly hunting down Divergents to take the lethal test. These quests come to a head when it appears that Tris may be just the Divergent that Jeanine is looking for.

The cast of young actors and actresses is wonderful. Shailene Woodley is as effective as ever, playing physically capable yet emotionally vulnerable well, balancing her ‘action chick’ persona with her survivor’s guilt. Theo James has improved vastly since the first instalment, and should be poised to take the reigns as the leading young-adult film heartthrob. Miles Teller is in confident, charming form as their uneasy ally Peter, and our export Jai Courtenay continues to cement his place as an action stalwart as Dauntless commander Eric. The grown up cast has grown in talent, taking on board Naomi Watts as the calculating Factionless leader and Octavia Spencer as the head of Amity. The only sour note is sadly Kate Winslet (as difficult to believe as that may be). She phones in her villain role, and rarely sells the character’s intelligence or cunning.

Director Robert Schwentke allows his below-the-line team to excel, opening up even greater worlds than the first film. The production design from Alec Hammond is impeccable, and each new faction is well represented. Cinematographer Florian Ballhaus delivers crisp imagery, and I appreciated that the franchise sets itself apart somewhat from other YA sagas through its embracing of symbolism and dreams. Not having read the source material myself, I would label the script from Brian Duffield, Akiva Goldsman and Mark Bomback serviceable, though others have noted that it makes some intelligent adjustments from the book.

The ending of ‘Insurgent’ opens up ripe potential for the final film ‘Allegiant’, which will be divided into two feature films as is the fashion in Hollywood today (and an idea which has payed dividends for studio revenue ever since). All in all, despite some dull points and a plot which is fairly homogenous amongst the ‘Hunger Games’, ‘Maze Runner’ et al. crowd, the film is a slight improvement over the first. Despite myself, I am curious to see where the sequels go, so I suppose the film has done its job.

Callum Ryan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.

Out March 19.

Entertainment One Films.

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