Film Review: ‘The Divergent Series: Allegiant’

'The Divergent Series: Allegiant' Review: 'Impatient'
Photo courtesy of Lionsgate

This first half of the artificially split two-part finally may diverge from Veronica Roth's source material, but doesn't necessarily solve its problems.

Gazing out over the wall that encircles Chicago at the end of “The Divergent Series: Allegiant,” Tris Prior longs for the time when she didn’t know what lay on the other side. Her imagination, like ours, had clearly been primed for exciting revelations beyond the realm of Veronica Roth’s juvie sci-fi franchise, which inexplicably switches allegories late in the game. What began as a massive, if astoundingly implausible sociology exercise — where citizens were sorted into character-specific factions, like Hogwarts first-years awaiting their house assignments — has morphed into a downright ridiculous anti-eugenics parable. And whereas Roth’s political subtext was previously rich enough to overlook the films’ second-rate action set pieces, her message has become so muddled, Summit has every reason to worry whether tween audiences (already down $20 million since the first movie) will remain allegiant to a weakening franchise through its forthcoming fourth episode, expected summer 2017.

Picking and choosing details from Roth’s complicated and somewhat controversial third novel, a trio of screenwriters new to the series deliver the first half of an artificially protracted two-part finale, which diverges not only from the source material, but also from where returning director Robert Schwentke left things in the previous film. There, as the music swelled, we saw “factionless” chieftess Evelyn (Naomi Watts) executing the dictatorial Janine (whose accomplices now face a similar fate) while the citizens swarmed en masse toward the wall, finally opened after more than 200 years.

Except, as “Allegiant” begins, the wall still stands and Evelyn’s heavily armed guards make every effort to keep the city cut off from the outside world, where, we’d been told, “Mankind waits for you with hope.” Running vertically up the cement surface, just five characters manage to cross the barrier here: Tris (Shailene Woodley, sporting yet another new hairstyle); her brother, Caleb (played by “The Fault in Our Stars” love interest Ansel Elgort); her actual love interest, Four (Theo James); Dauntless ally Christina (Zoe Kravitz); and the consistently unreliable Peter (Miles Teller).

The first movie actually began on the other side of this wall, panning across the evocative sight of a freighter abandoned in a field of tall green grass (the boat could still be seen in “Insurgent”). Now, in its place, Tris finds what looks like a Martian desert, where it rains toxic red water and the life expectancy is just two or three decades. A futuristic force field creates a second kind of wall, this one isolating the survivors of something called the “Purity War,” whose post-apocalyptic effects supposedly explain the radical change of setting. Picked up by armed soldiers, Tris and her team are brought to what remains of Chicago O’Hare Intl. Airport. (“What’s an airport?” asks Caleb, who might as well also ask, “What’s a nation?” These shut-in characters have an awful lot to learn.)

Finally, three films into the series, we get to discover why the city has been set up the way it is: At some indeterminate point in America’s future (and “Divergent’s” past), the government started fooling with human DNA, attempting to eliminate unwanted traits (such as a so-called “murder gene”) from its citizens. The effort backfired, and the new genetically modified population rose up in rebellion, reducing the United States to a radioactive wasteland and forcing the Bureau to take drastic (and totally non-scientific) measures.

In what sounds like an embarrassingly naive plan, the Bureau fenced in Chicago, filled it with genetically “damaged” citizens and imposed the faction system to ensure peace, effectively hoping that the human genome would heal itself. Meanwhile, using incredibly sophisticated surveillance technology, these outsiders tuned in to monitor every little detail, a la “The Truman Show.” If their goal was to find Divergents, it raises the question why they didn’t intervene during Janine’s genocidal reign — or now, as an unconvincing civil war brews between Evelyn and former Amity spokeswoman Johanna (Octavia Spencer).

It’s foolish to get too caught up in such questions, although asking audiences to turn off their brains basically reduces “The Divergent Series” to just another sci-fi action franchise — and not a very good one at that. With plot holes bigger than the chunks missing from its dystopian skyline (still the best visual effect in the wildly inconsistent, CG-dominated mix), “Allegiant” will seem awfully meager to those who so recently feasted on “Mad Max: Fury Road” … or “The Hunger Games,” or countless other superior examples of the genre.

What this more conventional installment does have going for it is a fresh “Tron: Legacy”-like score (from composer Joseph Trapanese) and a milder youth-skewing sensibility: The characters shoot what look like toy plastic guns, hitch rides in floating “plasma globes” and zoom about in bullfrog-shaped hovercrafts. Plus, the series never second-guesses the fact that its strongest characters are female, whether it’s role model Tris or rival leaders Evelyn and Johanna.

“Allegiant” introduces yet another potential villain, this one a superficially benevolent bureaucrat named David (Jeff Daniels, cementing the authority-figure typecasting seen since “The Newsroom”). David is obsessed with genetic purity, a concept he has incorporated into the decor of his immaculate white office, with its helix-shaped staircase and ivory-tower location, perched a hundred useless floors above ground. Apart from Tris, David doesn’t seem to care about any of the anonymous souls in Chicago — an attitude presumably shared by Schwentke, who gets some of the worst performances from extras in any film of this scale.

Although “Allegiant” does recapture the original film’s sense of constantly discovering and adapting to fresh information, audiences no longer identify with anyone in particular. For those who thrilled at the idea that she was somehow special, Tris has been pushed aside, while Four goes out on dangerous missions to “the Fringe,” visiting tent cities where David abducts children for purposes the movie never satisfyingly explains. When David’s plan goes askew, he relies on Peter to release memory gas into Chicago, resulting in laughable scenes in which the awkward aforementioned extras try to outrun clouds of orange smoke.

While it’s up to Tris to stop David from wiping everyone’s memories, that plot is virtually the opposite of the more complicated sacrifice Roth imagined for her in the book. It’s as if the filmmakers have lost interest in Tris — and who can blame them? Here we realize that by opening the box at the end of the previous film, Tris revealed herself to be not “divergent,” nor special, but effectively the same genetic state as everyone sitting in the movie theater — which is to say, purely average. Maybe the fourth film will recover what made Tris such a unique heroine, although in contrast with the divided last chapters of “Harry Potter” and “The Hunger Games,” there’s no epic villain for us spend the intervening year rooting against. And with no real cliffhanger to keep us interested, after “Divergent,” “Insurgent” and “Allegiant,” we can’t help feeling a little Impatient.

Film Review: 'The Divergent Series: Allegiant'

Reviewed at UGC George V, Paris, March 1, 2015. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 121 MIN.

Production

A Lionsgate release of a Summit presentation of a Red Wagon Entertainment production. Produced by Douglas Wick, Lucy Fisher, Pouya Shahbazian. Executive producers, Todd Lieberman, David Hoberman, Barry Waldman, Neil Burger.

Crew

Direted by Robert Schwentke. Screenplay, Noah Oppenheim, Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, based on the novel “Allegiant” by Veronica Roth. Camera (color, widescreen), Florian Ballhaus; editor, Stuart Levy; music, Joseph Trapanese; production designer, Alec Hammond; supervising art director, Alan Hook; art directors, Scott Dougan, Alex McCarroll; set decorator, Kathy Lucas; costume designer, Marlene Stewart; sound (Dolby Atmos), Peter J. Devlin; sound designer, Steve Boeddeker; supervising sound editor, Matthew Wood; re-recording mixers, Michael Minkler, Gary A. Rizzo, Beau Borders; visual effects producer, Erika McKee; visual effects, Animal Logic VFX, BUF, Rodeo FX, Method Studios, Luma Pictures, Soho VFX, Crafty Apes, Lola VFX, Pixomondo, Fusion CI Studios; special effects supervisor, Eric Frazier; stunt coordinator, Chris O'Hara; associate producers, Debbi Bossi, Julia T. Enescu; assistant director, John Wildermuth; second unit director, James Madigan; second unit camera, Patrick Loungway.

With

Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer, Jeff Daniels, Zoe Kravitz, Ansel Elgort, Miles Teller, Keiynan Lonsdale, Daniel Dae Kim, Maggie Q, Bill Skarsgard, Jonny Weston, Nadia Hilker, Andy Bean, Ray Stevenson, Mekhi Phifer, Joseph David-Jones, Ashley Judd.

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  1. Aja says:

    You mentioned that it never vears from the fact that its strongest leads are female, which is mostly true, but I find it troubling the way they portrayed Tris in this movie. In the book, she and Four fight because Four doesn’t trust her instinct on how the handle David and the Government problems, and takes sides with Nita. They end up leading a different type of rebellion, causing a lot of problems. Tris was having a hard time trusting Four after that, as this has become a been a pattern with him. In the movie, it’s Tris who doesn’t trust Four’s instincts, and she comes off as the weak one who causes people to get hurt. I don’t remember every detail of how it happened in the book, as I read them years ago, but it is typical. Completely change the dynamic, and make Tris look like the irrational one who wouldn’t listen to reason.

    I can’t imagine this part would be in the last movie, as it should have already happened. Also, the element of it being a pattern with Four would be lost because of this change. Then again, doesn’t seem like there’s much left for the last movie. Pretty dissapointing overall.

  2. Kenny says:

    Too much talking … I think this basically a transition movie for the last one. But the story is so true about human being. There is always something that we may not agree to no matter where we go.

  3. ctrent29 says:

    Has anyone considered the possibility that the real problem of the movie series are the novels?

  4. Margie says:

    I read negative comments about ,Allegiant movie so did not go see it when it first opened,I went today and absolutely loved it, not understanding all the bad reviews concerning it,just hoping when the last one comes out,Tris will not die?? That would ruin it all for me!!!!

  5. Janet Abbey says:

    I thought the first one Divergent directed and produced by Neil Burger was a wonder. Summit removed him – they always do this after the first one – and hired a CGI hack. Twilight did the same with Breaking Dawn Part I,II,(Condon)awful follow ups.You just had to know Scummit was going in this direction. But thie genre is now over, this one that made Scummit a playa. Scummit has now run its course with YA crap follow ups and has no future vision.

  6. Sharron Hammer says:

    I love Miles Teller and cannot wait to see him in something befitting him. And I’m 74 years old!!!!!! There have to be other young women out there awaiting the same thing!!

  7. irwinator1992 says:

    Given the terrible reception of the book series and its film adaptations, I can see this making half of what the previous film did at the box office. I can also see poor exit ratings from the audience and a single-digit score on Rotten Tomatoes. Shailene Woodley will need a David O. Russell-style bollocking if she wants to find success in Hollywood.

  8. If they were wise, they would have stayed as far away from the source material of the third book as possible. What we find is that about 80 per cent of those who read Allegiant felt that they had been had. And it wasn’t just the final scenario, it was the lame idiotic way in which Roth handled it to basically say, “I’m doing this for shock value and nothing more because I can.” You can find literally thousands upon thousands of readers review who took issue with it, probably the same ones who have been staying away from this poor man’s Hunger Game’s. Think of the third Terminator movie which basically said the first two were pointless exercises. Same thing with Roth’s Allegiant.

    The studio had already bought the series and begun filming the first book when the final novel came out. One has to think they felt like they had been had as well having to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. You’d have to think they weren’t particularly happy especially with the overwhelming negativity regarding the book.

    • allegiantus says:

      They have an entire movie next year to stay far from the source material as Allegiant part 1 uses most of the books material anyways

      • Like I said, they better stray far far away. I wish I could convince my girlfriend to stay away but that would mean revealing the plotting of the final book and I can’t do that. So unless they change it drastically, she’ll be very unhappy she paid her way through this movie series to come to that idiotic conclusion. Having read the atrocious final novel is in fact, a huge advantage for those who did and knew where this was going especially after the producers said they saw no reason to change it. Apparently they changed their minds but we’ll see.

      • allegiantus says:

        Yeah. If anything to say the least I hope you and your girlfriend enjoy Allegiant more than the book if anything =)

  9. Dunstan says:

    Did no one at Variety catch the egregious typo in the headline? “This first half of the artificially split two-part finally…” It should be FINALE, not “finally.” Geez.

    • Penn says:

      Finale somebody says something. I just caught another egregious typo in the review of Peter and the Farm. Variety material goes out all over the world. This is embarrassing.

  10. Marie says:

    That what happens when you try to ride the coattails of Hunger Games..

  11. Bill says:

    A really boring second rate film series. I’d like to say that I can’t believe that there are going to be four of them, but in today’s unoriginal and repetitive Hollywood, unfortunately I can.

  12. allegiantus says:

    All I know is I’m going to love Allegiant

  13. Liz says:

    Yes, because when you want to eradicate a certain genome from a population, the best thing to do is lock them all up in an enclosed area and force them to breed with each other for 200 years. That won’t make the genome worse or anything.

    I cannot believe they kept this idiotic backstory.

  14. PibbityBibbity says:

    They should have stuck to the books. They lost me in the second movie with the magical mysterious cube storyline that was never in the books. As soon as that storyline started, I stopped watching and don’t need to see any more.

    • allegiantus says:

      Okay just cause they didn’t stick to the book does not mean that it would’ve been a great movie. Insurgent the book had a way too complicated plot for a film

    • alessio says:

      you mean the box that is basically the hard drive in the book? and the review is saying the exact opposite of your comment, they had every reason to change as much as possible from the badly executed books (specially allegiant)

  15. John Miller says:

    When I was a teen, I didn’t at all care for teen movies, and it drove me nuts when my mom took me and my brother to them. I wanted to see the most adult-themed movies possible.

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