Allegiant (2016) / Sci Fi-Action
aka The Divergent Series: Allegiant - Part 1
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for intense violence and action, thematic elements, and some partial nudity
Running Time: 121 min.
Cast: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Jeff Daniels, Ansel Elgort, Miles Teller, Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer, Zoe Kravitz, Jonny Weston, Nadia Hilker, Andy Bean, Parisa Johnston, Rebecca Pidgeon
Small role: Daniel Dae Kim, Maggie Q, Ray Stevenson, Mekhi Phifer, Ashley Judd, Xander Berkeley
Director: Robert Schwentke
Screenplay: Noah Oppenheim, Adam Cooper, Bill Collage (based on the novel, "Allegiant", by Veronica Roth)
Review published March 19, 2016
At this point in the Divergent series, the makers have decided that they have little chance of actually coming out of the shadow of the Hunger Games series to be thought of as anything more than a blatant coat-tails cash grab. As with Insurgent, they've decided that the course they want to take is a 'course of action', whereby the action elements of the story are beefed up, the special effects are non-stop, and, if they have any chance of grabbing an audience outside of Hunger Games stragglers, it's going to have to be among eye-candy aficionados looking for spectacle above story elements.
The futuristic film opens with Naomi Watts' (While We're Young) character, Evelyn, now in charge of walled-in Chicago after the demise of Jeanine, and she's trying to provide 'justice' for past sins against the members of Erudite by conducting public trials in which they're put to death at the whim of angry mobs. Those who think that Evelyn is merely a replacement for Jeanine in Machiavellian tactics splinter off into their own group, the Allegiant, led by Johanna (Spencer, Zootopia), and civil war is about to break out for control of the city. Meanwhile, Tris (Woodley, The Fault in Our Stars) and her cohort of rebellious heroes manage to scale the walls of the city to try to find something or someone that will remedy the situation on the outside, eventually leading to an encounter with the Bureau of Genetic Welfare, led by David (Daniels, The Martian), who instructs Tris that their entire existence has served as an experiment for the last 200 years in trying to purify the damaged genetics of humanity, and that Tris' purity as a Divergent means that the experiment is a success. However, with Tris' home and nearly everyone she cares about about to kill each other, and an organization that's supposed to be looking out for their well-being showing that they might not be the benevolent rescuers she is hoping for, she's going to have to take matters into her own hands if she wants to fulfill that role of savior of humanity she's been destined to be since birth.
As with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, the final book in the Divergent series has been split into two films. Unlike previous franchises that have done the same, the result for Allegiant neither fleshes out the characters or their situations, nor does it give the storyline more room to breathe. In actuality, director Robert Schwentke (R.I.P.D., RED) is determined to keep the breakneck pace of Insurgent and give us even more of it, filling up any potential chances for a quiet or introspective moment with more action moments, nasty confrontations, and special effects smorgasbords, to the point where it feels in a great hurry to try to cram everything in, even though it doesn't really go anywhere except to set up the major battle that will surely take place in the final film of the series.
While the story is fairly scant, plot threads spew out, threatening to suffocate the characters out with lots of cinematic plate-spinning, as if Schwentke were nervous that the entire series would fall apart if its audience were given even a moment of silence to reflect on how many ways the premise of the movie just does not make any logical sense whatsoever. (Mild spoiler: The worst of it comes from the revelation that the scientific experiment of the Factions in Chicago are a success because Tris is pure are immediately undone by the revelation that Tris' mother (Judd, Dolphin Tale 2) is actually from the Fringe and decided to inject herself into the experiment, thereby negating any claims for proving that Factions work.) That rats' nest of plotting makes the story, which should have made more clear given we're now going to get nearly four hours to understand all of the motivations of this post-apocalyptic society, become even more undecipherable to explain, as screenwriters Oppenheim (The Maze Runner), Cooper (The Transporter Refueled) and Collage (Exodus: Gods and Kings), none of whom are credited to have worked on the prior entries in the series, merely throw plenty of narrative flotsam and jetsam overboard into our faces on the hope of not letting the ship sink before they get to their intended destination. The only way that plot moves forward is to have the characters reiterate pretty much everything we need to know about what they're doing in each scene to give us the semblance of logic on why they are doing whatever they're doing.
Something needs to be said about the film's main asset, the special effects, because there may be a case to be made that it's too much of a good thing in Allegiant. Not only does it seem far too incredibly advanced for a world that supposedly still reeling from the entire planet nearly annihilated by war and strife, but there is also never a sense of marvel to any of it. Tris and company should be flabbergasted by the sheer spectacle that is the Bureau's locale, as well as the beaming city of Providence, but outside of their eyes growing slightly wider on their descent, they don't comment much on the experience that there far more to the world that they've ever realized other than to be titillated by the weird shower contraption to cleanse them of the toxic environs outside. And even big special effects moments fall flat on their face, as the sheer amount of effects that require a heavy amount of processing power to perform makes them look jittery and unconvincing, especially when having to place the real-life actors into the shots. The laws of physics are also disregarded, as hovering sky-craft bob, weave and fly without any explanation on how they do, and whenever a vehicle crashes, whether by land or air, those involved in such major accidents that involve their craft rolling violently end over end emerge from them miraculously unharmed.
A talented cast goes to waste in undemanding roles, with problems further compounded by having to act in front of green-screens to special effects that will be filled in later in the production process. At times, you can see the confusion in the eyes of the actors, unsure of what they're supposed to be doing, to the point where even Oscar-caliber actresses like Watts and Spencer feel like they're acting in different movies altogether, despite appearing in the same scene on occasion. Meanwhile, Woodley, the main attraction for the franchise, gets little to do here but ask a few questions before deciding everything is awful in the world, and then look big-eyed in fear or determination as she gets immediately involved in yet another rebellion against yet another political faction with a hidden agenda. She's also out of the picture too often, leaving the wooden hunk Theo James (You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger) or the comically hammy Miles Teller (Fantastic Four) to take over entire sequences that barely register in excitement or interest. It's about as riveting as watching a blowout NFL football game in which the star players are benched in favor of giving time to second and third-stringers to finish out the final quarter.
While the action sequences and semblance of social commentary are enough to keep the film watchable through the absence of suspense and the idiocy of its intent to merely placate genre fans, these YA franchises have finally taken its toll in terms of fatiguing audiences. After finally making it through the diminishing returns of the Hunger Games series, it's exhausting to have to continue to watch a poor-man's version of it for two more movies. Curses to whoever though that the Divergent movies have the fervent fanbase or dramatic importance to deserve an extra couple of hours to explore the final book, as, from all appearances, the makers of this movie are content to tread water for about 80% of it with completely superfluous through-lines in the plotting. I'm looking forward to the next chapter in the series, Ascendant, about as much as I would an upcoming dental exam, only wanting it to arrive just so I can finally get it behind me.
©2016 Vince Leo