Blu-ray Review: The Divergent Series: Insurgent

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Full disclosure up front: my overall opinion of the Divergent series is largely based on my admiration of two of its stars. Though I've never read any of Veronica Roth's source novels, the movies star two of the most interesting young actors working in movies today. Shailene Woodley is right at the center of the entire series as the main protagonist, Tris Prior. She's more than up to the challenge. Miles Teller (Whiplash) plays the 'Is he good, or is he bad?' Peter Hayes, a rather obnoxious guy who spends much of this picture conspiring against Tris with Erudite faction leader Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet). Not only are the Divergent movies not Woodley or Teller's best work, it's not their best work together. That would be The Spectacular Now, which is a must for anyone who enjoys these two actors. But their work in the new Insurgent, now available on Blu-ray and DVD from Liongate, makes the film that much more worth watching.

Woodley's Tris Prior is a super-intelligent teen who tested into multiple factions within the dystopian future that serves as Divergent's setting. Basically, in this futuristic world, every teen is assessed by standardized testing to see which of five (very strangely-named) factions they fit into. This allows the totalitarian government to exercise inordinate power and influence over society's youth. But Tris is a rare "divergent," in other words she tested into multiple factions. This makes her a threat to the ruling party, as she is far more free-thinking than the average young citizen.

Divergent Insurgent 2 (380x253).jpgBut enough with the backstory, if you haven't seen the first Divergent, you'll be lost watching Divergent. The film, directed by Robert Schwentke (taking the reins from the first film's helmer, Neil Burger, who remains involved here on a producer level), suffers from its "middle of the trilogy" status. In fact, the first hour or so of Divergent seems to tread water as it sets the stage for a major showdown between Tris and Jeanine. Jeanine has recovered a mysterious box that is believed to hold important info, presumably directives left by the founders of the current society. Peter eases into the "guy you love to hate" role as he assumes the role as Jeanine's attack dog.

Some of the best parts of Divergent involve a nicely understated Naomi Watts, joining the cast as male hero Four's (Theo James) mother, Evelyn. She's been leading the rebellious Factionless, who are preparing to rise up and take on Jeanine and all of Erudite. Overall, there's a lot of overblown silliness in these movies, but Watts seems resolute in grounding her character in some degree of subtlety. But the picture doesn't truly heat up until the VR-simulations Tris is subjected to during the climactic battle of wills between she and Jeanine. The effects throughout are pretty cool to watch and the entire movie goes down pretty easily without really standing out as a remarkable experience.

Divergent Insurgent 3 (380x253).jpgCinematographer Florian Ballhaus (son of celebrated, Oscar-nominated cinematographer Michael Ballhaus) can rest easy: his work looks absolutely awesome on Lionsgates' Blu-ray edition. All the CG gives these movies an artificial look, which has a tendency to split audience opinion right down the middle. But whether you prefer your dystopian futures grittier or not, there's no denying that this high definition presentation offers a sharp, richly-detailed image. If you're Dolby Atmos equipped, I'm betting you'll enjoy the audio side of things too. But even defaulting to Dolby TrueHD 7.1, this is a bombastic, rockin', all-around satisfying sonic experience.

Tons of bonus content will keep fans busy for hours. Best of all is "Insurgent Unlocked: The Ultimate Behind-the-Scenes Access," which lives up to its billing. This picture-in-picture feature (the film itself runs in a small box in the corner of the screen) includes a wealth of mostly-interesting behind-the-scenes production footage. That content can also be accessed as individual featurettes for those who prefer bite-sized, rather than feature-length, supplementary material. There are additional featurettes totaling about 20 minutes, the best of which shines a spotlight on Divergent author Veronica Roth. There's also an audio commentary with co-producers Lucy Fisher and Doug Wick. Additional bits and pieces are found in the "Marketing Gallery," including a few short featurettes.

Divergent Insurgent 4 (380x249).jpgMaybe you love the Veronica Roth novels, in which case Divergent needs no hard sell. Maybe you view this series as a sort of B-level Hunger Games, in which case a certain ambivalence is to be expected. Speaking personally, as a fan of Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller, I have to recommend The Divergent Series: Insurgent not only because they're both in it, but because they deliver solid work.

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is music and film. As “The Other Chad,” he has written for the online magazine Blogcritics since 2008. When he’s not writing, Chaz can be found trolling jazz clubs, attempting to find somewhere to play his sax (whether anyone wants to hear…

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