Insurgent Blu-ray Review: Improved FX Help It Surge Above Its Predecessor

The films of The Divergent Series have firmly established themselves in the second tier of young-adult literature adaptations, joined by such other lesser lights as The Maze Runner and Percy Jackson films. This second film in the series doesn’t contribute much to change that position, aside from a noticeably larger effort in the special effects department. There’s very little action to be had here, and far too much dialogue, leading to a largely unconvincing film punctuated by occasional bursts of CGI wizardry.

Now that our heroine Tris (Shailene Woodley) has discovered her true nature as a powerful divergent, she and her compatriot Four (Theo James) set out to take down the evil faction leader Jeanine (Kate Winslet) and unite the diverse factions of their land as one. Along the way, they’re hunted by relentless soldiers led by the brutal Eric (Jai Courtney), as well as helped and hurt by conflicted rogue character Peter (Miles Teller).

The principal action comes into play in the later stages of the film as Tris employs her divergent abilities to pass a gauntlet of virtual reality “sims” to unlock the mysterious box recovered from her late mother’s possessions. The otherworldly sims give the special effects artists playgrounds to employ great particle effects as they build up and destroy the virtual worlds and characters. The fantastic imagery in those scenes help the film rise above Divergent, but then they end and we’re left with yet another non-conclusion as the plot fizzles out to set up the intended third film.

The acting is slightly above par thanks to Winslet and Teller, but not the leads. Woodley sheds some tears on cue, but otherwise mostly spends the film looking dour as her go-to expression of seriousness. James is adequate eye candy for those so inclined. The best that can be said about the charisma vacuum that is Courtney is that his screen time is reduced from the first film. Neil Burger’s direction is completely unmemorable, calling no attention to itself, which is fine for the straightforward nature of this adaptation.

Dolby Atmos sound has now reached the home market, with this Blu-ray including a masterfully immersive “TrueHD” mix as its primary audio presentation, along with a Dolby Digital 2.0 track “optimized for late-night listening”. The 1080P HD image is mostly as spectacular as one would expect, although I did notice some gradient banding in the darkest areas of a few scenes.

The Blu-ray packaging boasts about its “over 4 hours of bonus features”, seemingly a wildly excessive figure for such a mediocre film. In truth, fully half of those features are rolled out in a different version of the film that basically gives viewers picture-in-picture behind-the-scenes interviews and footage while they’re concurrently watching the movie. It’s an interesting guided-view approach to watching the film, but the emphasis is firmly on the features rather than the film so it’s not the format viewers should choose for their initial screening. Elsewhere, the traditional bonus features include the typical cast and crew interviews about their roles and the production. Original novel author Veronica Roth also prominently appears in the features, and she proves to be perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the entire disc as she eloquently discusses her hands-on involvement with the production.

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Steve Geise

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