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'Insurgent' lacks any true rebellious cinematic spirit
Zoe Kravitz stars as Christina in The Divergent Series: Insurgent. - photo by Josh Terry
Sometimes, going out to see the latest young adult sci-fi flick can feel like going for a frozen yogurt: The names on the front door might be different, but you can count on the same basic ingredients inside.

And no one will blame you if you happen to bring the wrong punch card to this months post-apocalyptic dystopian allegory starring a chosen protagonist with special powers.

Insurgent the sequel to 2014s Divergent bears a host of similarities to last years The Giver, the Hunger Games series and even The Maze Runner. But by the roll of the credits, it feels closer to the disappointing Matrix: Reloaded than anything else. In short, its a muddled, self-important plot dressed up in a lot of pretty visuals.

This is frustrating because aside from its derivative nature, Divergent showed some promise. Shailene Woodley was enjoyable as chosen-one-du-jour Beatrice Tris Prior, the young resistance leader destined to overthrow a tyrannical regime that separated its citizens into five factions. As she and her sidekicks headed for the frontier at the end of the first movie, a sequel felt promising.

But as Insurgent opens, it turns out she never reached that frontier. Tris, her boyfriend Four (Theo James), her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and resident weasel Peter (Miles Teller) are still inside the city walls, holing up with the Amity Faction in a post-apocalyptic hippie commune. Life is pleasant under the care of Amity leader Johanna (Octavia Spencer), but we know that wont last.

Meanwhile, back at Tyranny HQ, Jeanine (Kate Winslet) is desperate to hunt out Tris and the other Divergents citizens whose personalities dont fit nicely into one of the five factions. She has obtained a mysterious box that supposedly contains the solution to the Divergent problem. The downside? Jeanine needs a Divergent to open it.

So while Jeanine hunts and tests Divergents in her quest to open the box, Team Tris works to rally a resistance movement. There are plenty of willing parties, including Fours mother, Evelyn (Naomi Watts), but trust isnt easy to come by among the rebellious.

The rebellion leads to a lot of action and a lot of opportunity for director Robert Schwentke to fill the screen with CGI-enhanced eye candy. The problem is half the action isnt connected to any real stakes. The audience knows it isnt real, but even within the context of author Veronica Roths story, much of the fighting takes place in simulated virtual reality environments, so none of it carries any impact.

The actors do their best to bring substance to the material. Poor Winslet is saddled with the task of making her unconvincing dialogue convincing, not to mention the burden of being the first-ever villain named Jeanine.

Woodley continues to do a good job with her character, even if the story around her lacks real tension. James doesnt have much to do aside from being the supportive boyfriend. Of course, he draws a better straw than Elgort, who spends the film wearing the confused look of an actor who went from portraying Woodleys brother in the first film, to her desperate teenage lover in last summers The Fault in Our Stars, and is now back to playing her brother again.

To their credit, everyone involved behaves as if Insurgents young adult dystopia is the best young adult dystopia. But the story doesnt back them up. The idea of a divided populace isnt new its just one similarity to the superior Hunger Games series. But the opportunity to use the factions as a commentary on human nature is waved off in favor of a big reveal at the end that feels as innovative as gummy bears on the topping table.

Insurgent wants us to be awestruck, but in spite of a few nice ingredients, weve seen it before, and weve seen it better.

Insurgent is rated PG-13 for intense violence and action throughout, some sensuality, thematic elements and brief language.
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