Shailene Woodley Shows Off Action Star Chops in ‘Insurgent’

Shailene Woodley is back as Divergent’s Tris and this time, she’s not taking things lying down. The first teaser for Insurgent has just been released and from the looks of it, fans can expect the sequel to be much darker than this year’s film — starting with a braver and angrier heroine at the center of it all.

In Divergent, Tris was last seen running from the corrupt Erudite leader, Jeanine Matthews, with boyfriend Four (Theo James), brother Caleb (Ansel Elsgort), enemy and fellow Dauntless member Peter (Miles Teller), and Four’s father Marcus (Ray Stevenson,) after—spoiler! — losing both of her parents in the brewing war between factions. Insurgent will pick up where the first film left off, with the five characters seeking refuge in the faction of Amity. As Tris continues to fight against the powerful alliance threatening to tear her society apart, she also grieves over the loss of her parents and is forced to figure out what secrets they were protecting before their deaths.

Divergent saw Tris come into her own, transforming from a meek-looking member of the Abnegation faction into one of the leading members of the daring Dauntless. While the skills she’s learned in Dauntless have clearly made her a more confident and capable fighter, Insurgent’s Tris is still weak in the face of her own personal demons, as evidenced by the just-released trailer. The brief, action-packed clip shows her desperately trying to save her mom (played by Ashley Judd) from a burning, floating building. It’s clear the whole scenario depicted is a dream or perhaps a new scene from her fear landscape (the test portrayed in the first film, given to initiates to see how well they perform in the face of their biggest fears). Either way, the visions prove Tris remains haunted by her parents’ deaths and that guilt will have a big affect on her in the coming sequel.

It’s interesting that Lionsgate would choose to introduce Insurgent with an out-of-context sequence like this one. While the teaser fails to show any of the film’s actual plot, it does effectively set a moodier tone for the forthcoming follow-up. It also places all the focus on Tris, and Tris alone. Though James’s Four is a major character in the sequel, he isn’t featured at all in the new teaser. Of course, this could be just to give viewers a clear glimpse of Tris’s headspace in the coming film. But it’s also likely a smart marketing strategy: Female-centric movies have been killing at the box office recently and the studio knows it. Not to mention, several female-driven films — including animated ones— have caught flack lately for failing to place their heroines at the center of any promotion, instead choosing to focus on romantic entanglements. While Tris and Four’s relationship will continue in the sequel (and will likely be featured in coming, extended trailers), this first teaser reminds us that this is Tris’s story, and Woodley is the real action star of this franchise.

It’s a role that she’s equipped to take, given her rapidly rising star power in recent years. When Divergent was released this past March, Woodley was only on the brink of superstardom. Now, with box office smash The Fault in Our Stars and a critically acclaimed turn in the indie White Bird in a Blizzard behind her, she’s already well on her way there. By the time Insurgent hits theaters, the actress will likely have even more notable projects under her belt — and perhaps even an award season-worthy role.

Insurgent is scheduled for release on March 20, 2015.

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