'Dark times call for extreme measures," says Kate Winslet, playing Jeanine, the sternly coutured council chief who's running things as Insurgent gets under way.
And probably no more extreme a measure is taken in the second installment of The Divergent Series than when its defiant heroine, Tris Prior - Shailene Woodley, stirring up more trouble in post-apocalyptic dystopian Chicago - takes a pair of scissors and cuts her hair. The shearing of Tris' tresses is a good indicator that she's serious about the rebellion against Jeanine and her Erudites.
"Erudites?" you ask.
A quick Divergent refresher course - in the trilogy of YA books by Veronica Roth, and in the film franchise based on same, what's left of society is divided into five factions: Abnegation (the selfless), Amity (the peaceful), Candor (the honest), Dauntless (the brave), and Erudite (the intelligent). An underclass of the Factionless runs around, too, short on amenities - and tempers.
Tris' problem is that she's a "Divergent," displaying an affinity not for one of the factions, but for all five combined. In a social order where it is imperative to fit in (it's decided when you are 16 which group you will join, for life), she doesn't conform. By default, if not by DNA, she is an outsider, and a danger to the status quo.
As Insurgent - directed by German transplant Robert Schwentke, taking over from the first film's Neil Burger - begins, Tris, her beau Four (Theo James), and her not-beau, the not-trustworthy Peter (Miles Teller) are on the run. They've been granted shelter in an Amity commune, where cafeteria workers serve blessings ("Go with happiness") along with the kale. Dogs and horses run free. An Incredible String Band hoedown seems all but assured.
But then the armored big wheels of the Dauntless enforcers roll in, rudely trampling the organic garden and upending artisan-crafted furniture as they hunt for Tris and crew.
Unlike Divergent, which required pages of premise-establishing exposition, Insurgent is more purely action-centric, as the hunters hunt and the hunted flee through the trees, hopping freight trains, trying to elude capture.
At a certain point, however, Tris returns to Erudite HQ, where she is hooked to a "sim" machine that will test her mettle, and tousle her pixie coif. You know the Poäng chair "stress test" machine at Ikea, the one with the seat cushion that's pummeled for all eternity? That's what it looks like Tris is going through: She is that Poäng chair, only she doesn't have umlauts. Plus, she gets injected with serums that will send her tripping into life-threatening virtual reality scenarios, something the Poäng doesn't have to worry about.
It is not quite a spoiler to say Naomi Watts shows up in Insurgent in the role of Four's mother, a leader of the Factionless. In real life, James is 30, Watts is 46, so this relationship is indeed biologically possible, and, anyway, Divergent is a Young Adult series, after all, so why not a young adult mom for backstory? Watts' Evelyn is a tricky character - it should be entertaining having her around in the cloven-in-two-to-cash-in-at-the-box-office final installments, Allegiant - Part 1 (next March) and Part 2 (March 2017). And Woodley, who shows lots of action pluck along with those little raven tattoos on her collarbone, will be back, too, of course.
Burning question: What will she do with her hair?
Divergent Series: Insurgent **1/2 (Out of four stars)
Directed by Robert Schwentke. With Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Miles Teller, Kate Winslet, Naomi Watts. Distributed by Summit/Lionsgate.
Running time: 1 hour, 59 mins.
Parent's guide: PG-13 (violence, action, adult themes).
Playing at: Area theaters.EndText