Visually stunning race back to humanity

Scene from The Divergent Series - Insurgent.  PA/Entertainment One/Andrew Cooper
Scene from The Divergent Series - Insurgent. PA/Entertainment One/Andrew Cooper

THE DIVERGENT SERIES: INSURGENT (12A, 119 mins) Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Action/Thriller/Romance. Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort, Kate Winslet, Naomi Watts, Jai Courtney, Zoe Kravitz, Octavia Spencer, Ray Stevenson, Ashley Judd, Maggie Q. Director: Robert Schwentke.

Released: March 19 (UK & Ireland)

Adapted from Veronica Roth’s bestselling trilogy for young adults, Insurgent is a slickly engineered sequel that moves the dystopian narrative along at pace to a startling final revelation.

Robert Schwentke’s action-packed film crams its visual pyrotechnics into the climactic 30 minutes when Shailene Woodley’s heroine Tris must complete a series of tasks to prove that she possesses the qualities of all five factions: the selflessness of Abnegation, the courage of Dauntless, the honesty of Candor, the intelligence of Erudite and the inner peace of Amity.

These trials include a visually stunning race against time to rescue Tris’ mother (Ashley Judd) from a burning building that rotates as it ascends to the heavens and fisticuffs between the heroine and her diabolical doppelganger.

Woodley accomplishes these gymnastic feats with aplomb, but it’s during the film’s quieter moments that she truly excels.

In particular, a scene of unburdening facilitated by a truth serum is a tour-de-force of raw, tear-stained emotion that bodes well for the concluding chapter Allegiance, which will be released in two parts a la The Hunger Games.

When it comes to milking cash cows, Hollywood prefers them desiccated when the end credits roll.

The second film opens with Tris (Woodley), her lover Four (Theo James), brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and Dauntless traitor Peter (Miles Teller) ensconced in the pacifist enclave of Amity under the jurisdiction of Johanna (Octavia Spencer).

Tensions between Tris and Peter spill over just as the gun-toting forces of Erudite led by Eric (Jai Courtney) gate-crash the bucolic idyll.

Peter betrays the fugitives but Tris, Four and Caleb escape and head for the only sanctuary left to them: the realm of the factionless under the control of Four’s conniving mother, Evelyn (Naomi Watts).

“If we were to combine forces, we’d be unstoppable,” enthuses Evelyn, sensing an opportunity to overthrow Jeanine (Kate Winslet) and her cohorts from Erudite.

Allegiances are tested as Tris and Four disagree about the way forward, flanked by their Dauntless brethren including Christina (Zoe Kravitz) and Tori (Maggie Q).

Meanwhile, Jeanine hunts down Divergents to unlock a box that purportedly contains the key to eradicating the misfits once and for all.

Although it lacks the sustained visceral thrills and sense of jeopardy that distinguished the first film, Insurgent confidently lays the groundwork for a fraught journey back to humanity.

While Woodley excels in every frame, many of her talented co-stars are underused, particularly Whiplash drummer boy Teller and Elgort.

James continues to brood with his shirt on or off, kindling pleasing sparks of on-screen chemistry with his leading lady.

Director Schwentke, who previously captained Jodie Foster in the airborne thriller Flightplan, safely pilots the sequel through a few moments of dramatic turbulence, knowing the best is yet to come.

RATING: 6.5/10