History repeats itself. It’s not a new idea, and it’s certainly not an original thought for a cinematic, dystopian future. But this franchise insists upon reusing it, not just in the arc of the multi-part story but also within each individual chapter. Here, the rise and fall of one oppressive dictator is simply replaced by another, almost as if the band of rebellious heroes must continue to participate in a coup d’etat routine, not unlike the repetitious adventures of “The Hunger Games’ star Katniss. History – and teen science-fiction – clearly opt for do-overs at every turn.
Previously, the city of Chicago stood as the last remaining civilization after an apocalyptic nuclear war. But its very existence has been revealed to be nothing more than a master plan of peace for its test subjects, implanted in the rigid social structuring of physical and psychological factions, in an attempt to keep humanity alive. It’s a massive experiment, and its success is dependent on keeping people in the dark.
But divergent insurgent Tris (Shailene Woodley) and her boyfriend Four (Theo James) don’t intend to sit around as usurper Evelyn (Naomi Watts) and rival Johanna (Octavia Spencer) scrap over the spoils of a divided society. Instead, they’re determined to discover what lies outside the great wall constructed around Chicago, supposedly erected to protect them from the irradiated wastelands beyond. Could it be an anarchic civilization of warring cannibals? Or a welcome party of technologically advanced alien beings?
The way this film works, it could be anything. Once the gang of survivors crosses the desert, they essentially enter into another franchise altogether. Refusing to play by any of the rules it sets up, “Allegiant” invents new things spontaneously, each more incongruous than the last. If it’s not blatantly stealing from properties like “Mad Max: Fury Road,” it’s reworking concepts seen in numerous other postapocalyptic teen thrillers. It certainly doesn’t help that this series’ release dates are alternated with other ongoing young adult book adaptations – hoping to capitalize on the trend but also confusing viewers in the process. And splitting this last novel into two parts, as is the expected thing to do of late, further endorses hackneyed derivations and the possibility of duplicating its own storylines. In many ways, it’s as if novelist Veronica Roth enjoyed such success with her first book that she felt forced into writing further tales, even if the inspiration and substance were woefully absent.
With armed conflict comes the need for tense escapes and confrontations; action and adventure are right around every corner. But every scene seems to highlight the carelessness, the recklessness, and the stupidity of trained soldiers letting their guard down to fall for the same tricks over and over again. The film builds little mysteries and oodles of unanswered questions to the point of aggravation rather than suspense, specifically as it engages in the echoing of betrayals, motives, and viewpoints. The inconsistencies in all of this are staggering, from the injuries that come and go, to the technology that can be powerful or ineffective in the exact methods necessary to advance protagonist movements, to the trustingness of characters who would never exhibit such good faith. But perhaps the most unforgivable element is the dialogue, which grows worse with each passing line. Some of the conversations are so ridiculous (and anachronistic, regardless of whatever universe or time period this is supposed to take place) that they’re laugh-out-loud funny – entirely unintentionally. “Gadzooks!”