Clay-eating, bone-broth consuming free-spirit Shailene Woodley plays rebel Tris, the former resident of the Abnegation faction turned Dauntless Divergent, who is on the run from Erudite leader, Jeanine (played by Kate Winslet, who apparently was hit in the head and got lost on her way to the set of a respectable movie). Along for the tedious, 18-hour journey are her reluctant brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort), the traitorous Dauntless member, Peter (Miles Teller), and her boyfriend, Four (Theo James), who looks like James Franco if James Franco were much better looking.
Woodley, hair freshly shorn in the style of Alison Williams in Peter Pan, leads the foursome away from Erudite and toward a hippie Amity outpost, then to the home of the Factionless (led by Theo’s Mom, Evelyn (Naomi Watts)) and finally to a Candor village, where she is given a truth serum and tried for her crimes by Jin-Soo Kwon from Lost. Declared innocent along with her boyfriend, Tris begins assembling an army of sympathetic Dauntless members and the Factionless in order to overthrow Jeanine in a burgeoning civil war in a city where everyone except Kate Winslet are 20-something year olds played by the Millennial Brat Pack who are all crying over the fact that Detergent: Insurgent is their goddamn St. Elmo’s Fire.
The catch? Jeanine has a shiny box with a message from the city’s founders inside, but only a true Divergent can open it, and so while Tris is putting together her army, Jeanine and her henchman (Jai Courtney) are attempting to extract her and put her through another goddamn simulation so that she can receive the message, which Jeanine assumes will answer all of her questions about God, the meaning of life, and the fate of the world (spoiler: It doesn’t).
All of this happens over the course of two hours interspersed with plodding action sequences, Shailene Woodley crying like Judd Nelson called her a princess, Jai Courtney scowling with all the menace of Ted McGinley, Miles Teller smarming like Lloyd Dobler trapped holding a boombox in a utopian apocalypse, and Theo James quietly smoldering, hoping that someone will please remake Sixteen Candles and cast him as Jake Ryan before he’s banished into obscurity. There are also a few dream sequences, because nothing moves the plot along quicker than 10 minutes of meaningless glimpses into the subconscious.
But don’t worry, there’s also plenty of sim sequences, which allow us to continue watching Tris navigate the perils of a virtual reality world so that she can conquer the demons of her subconscious and eventually face off against her own goddamn self in a fake battle between two holograms where the fate of a moronic system designed by an author trying to mimic The Hunger Games and The Giver hangs in the balance.
If you haven’t memorized the book series, you’ll probably spend the first 45 minutes of Detergent: Insurgent completely lost, trying to remember what all the factions from the first movie were and wondering what the difference between a Factionless member and a Divergent are (the Factionless belong to no faction, while Divergents are Factionless because they belong to every faction). Unfortunately, once you’re finally caught up to speed, it doesn’t really matter, because you don’t know why choosing not to fight yourself in a simulated game makes you a goddamn member of Amity.
In short, Detergent: Insurgent is a muddled, unnecessarily confusing, boring disaster of a film that that’s only purpose seems to have been to keep its otherwise talented cast conflicted out of appearing in Star Wars and Marvel movies. Those poor bastards. The good news is, Mekhi Phifer can now say he’s done something worse than the American spin-off of Torchwood.