Divergent grossed $288 million worldwide, but can its sequel, Insurgent, do the same?
In the second installment of the four-part movie series, directed by Robert Schwentke, actress Shailene Woodley returns as heroine Tris Prior, who is on the run after evading a hostile takeover from Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet) and the rest of Erudite faction. Jai Courtney, Ansel Elgort, Theo James, Ashley Judd, Zoë Kravitz, Maggie Q, Mekhi Phifer, Ray Stevenson and Miles Teller reprise their roles from the 2014 film, while Daniel Dae Kim, Janet McTeer, Octavia Spencer, Suki Waterhouse and Naomi Watts make their first appearances as characters from the best-selling book series by author Veronica Roth.
The story picks up three days after Divergent ended.
Insurgent is in theaters Friday. Here's what the critics have to say about the action-packed sequel:
• The Hollywood Reporter's Sheri Linden calls the movie "a more cohesive and involving" film than its predecessor. "Having defined the rules of its dystopian future world in last year's Divergent, the saga is considerably less encumbered by exposition and setup," she writes. While Schwentke "brings a flair for taught and flavorful action," Linden says that "the story's organizing principle—the faction system that divides society into five groups based on personality—grows less compelling as Insurgent proceeds." She calls Woodley's performance "convincingly vulnerable and tough" and applauds James' "stoic strength."
• "Just as the exposition-heavy Divergent promised big things to come, director Robert Schwentke's like-minded follow-up remains squarely forward-focused, but lacks the moment-to-moment thrill of puzzling out versatile protagonist Tris Prior's place in a society designed to categorize its citizens into one of five rigidly defined factions," Variety's Peter Debruge writes. "Here, Tris knows her role, and instead spends most of the movie coming to terms with the casualties already on her conscience, making this entire déjà vu episode feel like a hurdle the franchise must clear before moving on to its two-part finale."
• The Wrap's Alonso Duralde calls Winslet "a slumming Academy Award winner" who "plays the evil ruler like she's a cross between Hillary Clinton and Frau Blucher from Young Frankenstein." In his scathing review, he complains, "Take everything annoying about a cobbled-together, overly familiar YA adaptation, add the built-in wheel-spinning of a sequel, and you've got Insurgent, a film that works best when it places its heroine inside virtual-reality situations—at least then it has an excuse for eschewing logic and context." The film "perks up a bit" when Spencer, Watts or Winslet appear onscreen, he writes. However, while "Woodley has proven herself to be a capable performer," Duralde writes, "Insurgent features the first instances of bad acting I've seen her give in a film, notably a scene in which Jack (Kim), of the lawyerly Candor faction, shoots her up with truth serum that would appear to be Ham Juice, given the amount of crying and grimacing and overplaying that [Schwentke] allows Woodley to perpetrate." The action movie works best, the critic explains, when "it frees itself from the bonds of its own world."
• "Insurgent is a starving person's Hunger Games," The New York Daily News' Joe Neumaier opines. "It may fill up the multiplex moments when Katniss is between bouts, but this absurd action-drama saga is below even its anemic debut." He argues that the sequel "has a glib way with violence and retribution, something the Hunger Games films, with their stronger metaphor, avoid. Yes, it's crucial for girls to have superheroines to look up to, but this stuff gets nasty." While Woodley was "great" in The Spectacular Now and The Fault in Our Stars, Neumaier also thinks she is a "humdrum action star. Her amiable yet laid-back style turns the film's key moments from do-or-die into OK-whatever." While James is "all snarls," Neumaier singles out one lf the younger cast member's performances, writing, "Teller at least provides fun as this movie's version of Star Wars' Lando Calrissian, charming even when he's conniving." Winslet "is efficient, but hasn't much to do," he adds, while Watts "looks like 1980s-era Stevie Nicks."
• Us Weekly's Mara Reinstein praises Woodley, especially after she was "palpably uncomfortable in the no-BS heroine role in the first go-round." In the sequel, though, "She's a true muscular, sneering force." Still, there are moments where the actress' performance falters. "It's mystifying that Woodley flails when she attempts to drum up tears revealing her deepest, darkest secrets to the Candor tribe. It's shockingly unconvincing. And this same actress, after all, turned in her most moving work in last year's Kleenex-fest, The Fault in Our Stars. All that screen time with her Stars' soul mate Elgort only serve as a wistful reminder of Woodley's more-impressive film resume," Reinstein writes. "For that matter, so do her scenes with The Spectacular Now love Teller. Now that was daring, original filmmaking."
• "There's really only one problem with the Divergent series, and that is that the premise makes not a lick of sense. And the more you think about it, the less sense a humanity divided into factions based on five cardinal virtues makes, so the film strains to hold its own plot together. That it works as well as it does is almost entirely down to Shailene Woodley, giving complexity and depth to tortured heroine Tris," Empire's Helen O'Hara argues. While she notes that "the depth of talent in that supporting cast is impressive," she points out that many of those actors only "appear for a scene or two at most." Still, she writes, "The plot unfolds steadily and largely satisfactorily, but it is one-note: the stakes are always life or death and the only person to demonstrate a sense of humor is Teller's ratfink Peter. But Woodley at least brings the guilt-ridden Tris to life, and her conviction carries the rest of the film in her wake."
• Time Out London's Cath Clarke calls Woodley "the best thing" in a wasted franchise. "After the lifeless first film, Insurgent finds a pulse, but its far-fetched post-apocalyptic world still feels invented solely to make room for a copy-Katniss, lethally-tough heroine," she writes. She argues that the plot "makes zero sense," but it's hard to take her eyes off Woodley—even if her chemistry with James is "non-existent."