‘Insurgent’ Review: Shailene Woodley Returns in YA Cinema’s Most Generic Franchise

Snazzy effects and slumming Oscar-winners aside, not much makes this film stand out from its many competitors

So I saw the new Shailene Woodley movie, the one with Miles Teller. No, that’s “The Spectacular Now.” This one has Ansel Elgort. Uh, no, you’re thinking of “The Fault in Our Stars.”

This is the one based on the popular YA novels about the special girl who fights back against a totalitarian government. Not “The Hunger Games,” no; this is the one where everyone’s in a walled city. Yeah, no, that would be “The Maze Runner.”

I’m talking about the movie where a slumming Academy Award winner plays the evil ruler like she’s a cross between Hillary Clinton and Frau Blucher from “Young Frankenstein.” I see where you’re confused; that would be Meryl Streep in “The Giver.” This is actually the movie where mankind’s hope for the future is hiding out in caves. Seriously? “The Host”? You saw that one?

I just checked: This movie is called “Insurgent.” No, “Insurgent.” It’s the sequel to “Divergent.” It’s the one where — look, never mind.

So yes, 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.

I_D012_05323_RIn this future-dystopian world where a micro-society has been divided into factions, Tris (Woodley) is a “divergent,” someone whose innate abilities place her into more than one of those categories.

Following the massacre of her parents and the other members of the altruistic Abnegation faction, Tris — along with boyfriend Four (Theo James) and the not-entirely-trustworthy Peter (Teller) — are hiding out with the gentle souls of Amity. Their own faction, the security-minded Dauntless, has become the muscle for the brainiacs of Erudite, and the trio must plot their next move with the help of Tris’ brother Caleb (Elgort), who’s an Erudite himself.

The wickedly ambitious Jeanine (Kate Winslet) wants to destroy Tris, until it’s revealed that the young divergent is the only person around (there’s that YA “special snowflake” trope rearing its perfect little head again) who can open a magical doohickey with a message from their society’s founders, one that Jeanine is convinced will bolster her campaign of wiping out all the divergents. Tris, meanwhile, is beating herself up for failing to save her parents in the previous movie, as well as for having killed other members of Dauntless who were under Winslet’s mental control.

Woodley has proven herself to be a capable performer, but “Insurgent” features the first instances of bad acting I’ve seen her give in a film, notably a scene in which Jack (Daniel Dae 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 director Robert Schwentke (“R.I.P.D.”) allows Woodley to perpetrate.

“Insurgent” perks up a bit when seasoned vets like Winslet or Octavia Spencer (as the leader of Amity) or Naomi Watts (playing a revolutionary who has history with Four) pop up for a scene or two, but for the most part, this all plays out like yet another movie about pretty young people in futuristic sportswear punching or shooting each other.

Where the film works best are in those moments where it frees itself from the bonds of its own world, which it explains both too much and not enough, and enters intentionally artificial simulations in which Tris must attempt to unlock the box by showing that she has all the best qualities of all five factions.

“Insurgent” becomes pure eye candy at this point, yes, but it’s the only satisfying morsel this movie can serve.