“Dark times call for extreme measures.” So declares the phlegmatic leader Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet) in the dystopian film Insurgent after ordering a mob of armored meatheads to hunt down Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley). Tris is a teenager whose preternatural talents make her a danger to a society where everyone is sorted into skill-based factions named after a GRE vocabulary word: Dauntless, Amity, Candor, Abnegation, Erudite, and Factionless. Insurgent is rife with bloodshed and high-adrenaline chases, and Jeanine’s line aims to convey the supposedly immense stakes of capturing and killing non-conforming individuals like Tris. But instead her words land like the thinly veiled cliché they are. (You can almost hear the unspoken, sarcastic “DUN DUN DUN” that follows.)
Perhaps not much should be expected from the follow-up to a widely-panned film based on a derivative-of-a-derivative hit YA novel trilogy by Veronica Roth. But Insurgent isn’t a bad film because it's a sequel, or because it’s based on a YA novel, or because it’s not particularly original. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and its successor Mockingjay Pt. 1 were all of those things but managed to tell a complex story with a riveting heroine and cast of supporting characters. Even after all the detailed world-building that took place in the first film, Insurgent still feels like a pale universe desperately trying to manufacture chaos and emotion for the sake of chaos and emotion. But the movie's disregard for cause-and-effect (dei ex machina abound), meaningful relationships, and plot hamstrings its efforts to gather narrative momentum for the trilogy's two-part finale, despite the major twist and cliffhanger at Insurgent's close.