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‘Insurgent’: A slick movie more tightly wound than ‘Divergent’

In the second film from Chicagoan Veronica Roth’s mega-bestselling “Divergent” trilogy, we find those on-the-run non-conformist “divergents” Tris (played again with athletic intensity by Shailene Woodley) and Tobias “Four” Eaton (Theo James) being vigorously and murderously pursued by Jeanine (Kate Winslet), the power-hungry leader of the Erudite faction.
It’s clear that Jeanine and her minions will not be satisfied until they can quell a budding revolution — an attempt to overthrow the five-faction division of society in a dystopian, crumbling Chicago.
While the first film was shot entirely in the Windy City, the filmmakers now turned to Atlanta and its more tax-credit-friendly business environment (with the exception of aerial shots of Chicago), but the overall look is pretty seamless.
And frankly, while I enjoyed the first “Divergent” movie, I did find “Insurgent” to be a better cinematic romp. With new director Robert Schwentke in place (replacing “Divergent’s” Neil Burger), this second picture seems slicker, more tightly wound and better paced than the first one.
Of course, this time around, the screenwriters haven’t had to set up the storylines required in the first film. (It should be noted an audience member viewing “Insurgent” without having seen “Divergent” or read Roth’s books may have a bit of trouble totally understanding the overall plot.)
To truly enjoy this pretty spectacular ride, one has to completely buy into Roth’s basic premise: that an entire society willingly agrees to be divided into those five factions of Erudite (intelligence), Dauntless (bravery), Amity (peace-loving/agricultural), Abnegation (selfless service to others) and Candor (honesty).
Of course there also are the Factionless folks who don’t fit into any one faction — the poor underclass of this society. And then there are those pesky Divergents, bearing elements of some of all of the factions and perceived to be the ultimate danger to those who run this crazy futuristic world.
For those looking for non-stop action, pretty dazzling special effects and solid acting by the young protagonists, “Insurgent” will not disappoint.
A new wrinkle in this second film is the discovery of a mysterious metal box, engraved with the symbols of all five factions. Winslet’s Jeanine is obsessed with the object and believes that only a true Divergent has the power to open the container and reveal its secrets. Only Tris, she’s convinced, will be the key to unlocking those secrets, and thus she intensifies her search for the girl.
This second film in what will eventually be a four-film franchise (as the third novel, “Allegiant,” is expected to be split in two, much as was the case in the “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” series) starts off only moments after the first movie left off.
Along with Tris and her now-lover Four, we find Tris’ seemingly frightened and self-doubting brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and Peter (Miles Teller) in a mad dash to escape Jeanine’s grasp — landing them in the care of the Amity faction, led by Johanna, played by a new cast member, Oscar winner Octavia Spencer. Teller adds a nice infusion of sarcastic bombast to the proceedings.
Yet, in the final analysis, this is Woodley’s film and her franchise. Tris is at the core of the entire story, and her evolution from reluctant inductee to the Dauntless faction — to becoming a true leader of men and women — is at the heart of Roth’s saga. Woodley exhibits all the right traits here and delivers them in fine fashion.

[s3r star=3.5/4]

Summit Entertainment presents a film directed by Robert Schwentke and written by Brian Duffield, Akiva Goldsman and Mark Bomback, based on the novel by Veronica Roth. Running time: 119 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for intense violence and action throughout, some sensuality, thematic elements and brief language). Opens Friday at local theaters.