"The Divergent Series: Insurgent" arrives as the second installment in the dystopic sci-fi franchise about teenage rebels tearing down a society organized into rigid factions based on personality type.
Unfortunately for "Insurgent," film critics have largely united into a faction of their own, one that says star Shailene Woodley's sequel is a muddled, unexceptional action flick.
In one of the more positive reviews, The Times' Kenneth Turan says that incoming director Robert Schwentke and his collaborators have course-corrected the series and "done serious surgery to 'Insurgent,' streamlining the story line, changing key plot points, inventing critical elements and in general improving the narrative flow."
In doing so, they've "made 'Insurgent' into less of a youthful romance and more of an action-heavy science fiction story, the kind of rat-a-tat tale that used to star grown-ups before teens ruled the box office. The result — though admittedly it's a low bar to clear — is a more effective, adult-friendly film than its predecessor."
The Associated Press' Jake Coyle agrees that compared to original "Divergent," the sequel is "a bigger, glossier and better made action film with less embarrassing fight choreography. But, Coyle says, "any appeal still depends entirely on the talent of its cast," which includes Kate Winslet, Miles Teller, Theo James, Naomi Watts and Octavia Spencer.
Coyle adds that like its predecessor, "Insurgent" seems "curiously content to eke out a rigid, lifeless fable in drab futuristic environs."
L.A. Weekly's Amy Nicholson outright pans the film, writing, "The nicest thing you can say about 'Insurgent' is that no one involved in the making of it would test positive for the intelligent Erudites" (a reference to the film's faction of smart people).
Nicholson continues, "Even the plot throws up its hands. At several points in the script, Terrible Things happen that threaten to destroy everything. Later, these fears are tidily resolved off-screen, or proven not to be threats at all." Though there are two more "Divergent" films coming, "'Insurgent' is so vapid it seems impossible that there's enough story left for another sequel."
The Washington Post's Michael O'Sullivan says "Insurgent" doesn't do a very good job getting viewers invested in what's going on. He writes, "Although Woodley is adequate at emoting — Tris [her character] being something of a basket case of guilt, self-loathing and teenage hormones — many of the other characters here are, by definition, one-dimensional."
There is, O'Sullivan says, "a certain urgency to the action that will prevent most people from noticing the film's flaws."
And the San Francisco Chronicle's Mick LaSalle writes, "For what it is, 'Insurgent' is a reasonably executed, sporadically enjoyable [movie]. Yet, there's no escaping what it is, and what it is … is silly."
He continues, "just about everything in 'Insurgent' is ridiculous, and the more the movie expands … the harder it is to keep from groaning. Faced with this, the actors and filmmakers do the one thing they can do. They commit to this world vision with religious intensity."
That's something, granted, but hardly revolutionary.
Follow @ogettell for movie news