Movie Review - The Divergent Series: Allegiant
By Matthew Huntley
March 24, 2016
Now that Allegiant, the penultimate entry in the Divergent series, has hit theaters, I think it’s safe to assume Hollywood will put the kibosh on adapting young adult fiction to the big screen, at least for now. Amidst the latest installments of The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner falling short of expectations, audiences seem less interested in the genre overall, which makes Allegiant a victim of bad timing. However, it’s also a victim of bad storytelling, because it continues the trend started by the first two films - Divergent and Insurgent - whereby it merely positions itself into a pre-existing mold and makes little or no attempt to break free from it. Unless you’re a completist like myself, there’s really nothing to see here.
If you happen to be a faithful follower of these movies, or have read Veronica Roth’s trilogy, then you know it’s about a group of young, attractive rebels in a futuristic, dystopian Chicago, led by the plucky Tris (Shailene Woodley). They’re on a mission to go beyond the city walls, which have, hitherto now, barricaded them inside a heavily controlled and monitored society in which the ruling council has divided the citizenry up into docile factions.
Tris, however, didn’t fall into any one category and thus earned the label “divergent.” She ignited a resistance against the oligarchical government and now, along with her love interest, Four (Theo James), brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort), and fellow insubordinates, Christina (Zoë Kravitz) and Peter (Miles Teller), is on a quest to find the truth, take down the government, and guarantee freedom for all, and so on and so forth (this seems to be the default trajectory for stories of this nature).
It was at the end of Insurgent that Tris and her comrades made it to the wall, and at the beginning of Allegiant,” they finally climb over it. But they discover the world beyond the city is mostly a barren, deserted wasteland, with only one isolated compound that houses the almighty council. Here, Tris meets David (Jeff Daniels), the council’s director, who tells her the government’s ultimate plan with the so-called “Chicago experiment” was to observe the world’s remaining citizens, gather critical information about them, and ultimately “repair” the human genome so future peoples wouldn’t make the same mistakes that led to this ruinous planet.
Of course, anyone with half a brain (except, it seems, Tris) would be able to tell right away that David has more sinister intentions and his only priority is to maintain power and control. So it’s up to Four to expose David and the council for what they are until Tris comes to her senses and joins the good fight. And once she does, and the rest of the heroes are brought up to speed, Allegiant merely continues on its way (it never diverted from it) as just another sci-fi “young people vs. establishment” action movie, with the same old, and rather boring, chase sequences, shoot-outs, fight scenes, and down-to-the-wire moments in which the good guys are on the edge of defeat unless they can blow something up in just in the nick of time.
What’s most off-putting about the movie is that its adherence to all the standard conventions almost seems deliberate, as if director Robert Schwentke and his team of screenwriters believed this is just how stories like this are “supposed to be.” They didn’t’ bother to inject their template with any creativity or innovation, and the result is a lackluster, trying experience that plays out with no surprises, excitement or wit. I suppose it would be hard for any movie to generate such effects when so many others before it have done the same thing. In fact, I can think of two: Divergent and Insurgent.
All this is even more of a shame given the level of talent in front of the camera, including not only Woodley and Daniels, but also Naomi Watts and Octavia Spencer. At this point, I can only hope the forthcoming final film, Ascendant, lives up to its name and rises about the confines of the genre and actually shows us something different.