Insurgent: Up-and-down Divergent entry a step in right direction

Powerful and bold performances from young women have dominated the cinematic landscape early in 2015, from Dakota Johnson’s career-changing performance in “Fifty Shades of Grey” to a Disney blockbuster in “Cinderella.”

While the year’s most gripping performance from a leading actress so far — Jennifer Lawrence in the limited release “Serena” — has been relegated to the second tier of cinema known as video on demand, the first quarter of 2015 will be capped off with yet another top young actress ruling the box office.

Shailene Woodley, star of last year’s summer romance “The Fault in Our Stars,” returns to blockbuster action with “The Divergent Series: Insurgent” now blasting its way into theaters.

The sequel to last year’s “Divergent” is cinematic fun at its most basic level. Though the film sits at nearly two hours long, events fly by a crisp pace and press viewers into the back of their seat, forcing them to remain engaged in order to keep up with all of the moving parts.

Newcomers to the series — based on a trilogy of books from Veronica Roth — will be largely lost, however, as Tris (Woodley) and her small band of fellow rebels flee from a controlling army led by Jeanine, played by a screen-chewing Kate Winslet.

Scenes fly from peace-loving Amity to post-apocalyptic Factionless to ultra-sleek Candor so quickly it’s hard to tell exactly how much time has passed.

However far along you think you are into “Insurgent,” subtract about 15 minutes and you’re probably in the right ballpark.

It’s because the plot advances with machine-gun-like urgency that “Insurgent” finds itself falling short of greatness.

There’s so many moving pieces that it’s nearly a complete waste of the film’s talented cast of stars, save for leads Woodley and Theo James as her tag-along boyfriend suffering from major daddy issues.

All the key players from the original “Divergent” film return from Oscar-winner Winslet and Ashley Judd to rising stars Miles Teller and Ansel Engort.

Throw another couple of heavy-hitter actresses in Octavia Spencer and Naomi Watts into the mix and there should be a quality movie lost in there somewhere.

Though it’s a major concern for the cast across the board, Woodley can’t act within the context of this film and not because she lacks the talent. Her work in 2011’s “The Descendants” and 2013’s “The Spectacular Now” are clear reflections of a budding superstar on the rise.

“Insurgent,” directed by Robert Schwentke from a script treated by at least three separate writers, swaps character development for the sake of additional action – a tradeoff the makers of “The Hunger Games” series haven’t forced upon its star, Lawrence.

For Woodley to play the heroine, she is required to act with one hand tied behind her back, given nothing to mold a character from.

Stripped away are Tris’ emotional stakes as it’s hard to care much about a character who can only feel the weight of her parents’ death when it’s convenient to advance action scenes.

For as much as the frantic pace of “Insurgent” keeps viewers engaged in the plot, lack of character development and Schwentke’s lack of direction in general has the “Divergent” franchise running in neutral, good enough to keep the money rolling in for the future of the series, but not on par with “The Hunger Games” shadow the series finds itself hiding within.

Action scenes within the film are dynamic and highly technical, significantly ramping up the visual effects in the second go-round of the series.

It’s clear that key scenes were shot with the intent of making them feel iconic. Schwentke becomes incredibly heavy-handed during the film’s pivotal simulation testing scenes, forcing Woodley to break down glass barriers ad nauseam in order to make the most of his 3D effects budget.

Watching “Insurgent” on a 2D screen, as most moviegoers will do, fails to achieve the intended effect, however.

A solid B-rate blockbuster intended primarily for the teenage demographic, “The Divergent Series: Insurgent” is worth a look in theaters as much of the film’s action sequences will be further diminished on a smaller screen.

2015 might not become the year of the leading lady — there’s still a lot of big-name actors yet to take a bow on screen this year — but significant strides have been made in recent months to put young actresses at the forefront of cinema, a good sign of things still to come.

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