Heading into the third film based on Veronica Roth’s best-selling YA trilogy, “The Divergent Series: Allegiant” has settled into its mediocre place in the genre. It’s not quite a blockbuster like, say, “The Hunger Games” or “Twilight”, but it isn’t a disaster either. That divergence (no pun intended) is reflected in the films themselves, with the first one a dull talker that struggled to explain the complicated faction-based dystopia of the story’s setting. The sequel, “Insurgent”, was far superior as it ditched the bland stuff for more guns, more actions, bigger visual effects, more more more. With “Allegiant”, the first half of the franchise finale, there seems to be no clear focus about what this film is supposed to be, and there’s definitely not enough story to sustain two movies when it can barely carry one.
If you haven’t seen the first two “Divergent” films then “Allegiant” is probably the worst time to become a fan because there’s no attempt to explain anything, not that it would have made any sense. One of the biggest problems with Roth’s series, and it has been amplified in the adaptations, is that the future society these characters exist in is utterly ridiculous and unconvincing. Shailene Woodley and the mountain-voiced Theo James are back as polished lovebirds Tris and Four, who have survived the attack by Jeanine and her plot to destroy “divergents”. What are divergents? Ehhhhh, well, they’re sorta like mutants except not at all. See, in the Chicago they live in, society was divided up into ideological factions. Divergents were able to rise above all of that and be themselves. Now in “Allegiant” the faction system is destroyed, but there’s no peace because Four’s mother (Naomi Watts) wants total control while a rebel group (led by Octavia Spencer) has splintered off.
Get all that? Well, there’s more, and it involves Tris, Four, the devious Peter (Miles Teller), and Tris’ back-stabbing brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) fleeing Chicago into a cheap-looking technological city where the Bureau of Genetic Warfare is being run by a mysterious man named David (Jeff Daniels) There they learn Chicago has been watched over by the Bureau, “Truman Show”-style, in hopes of helping humanity recover from the effects of a genetic war. The whole thing is stupidly convoluted, but the details that could have helped flesh this world out are presented in a dismissive fashion. However, if you really need a reminder of the franchise’s core theme of individuality, it will be explained to you ad nauseum in one of many variations on “Leaders need to make tough decisions to protect the people.” Worst of all, Tris is relegated to background duty as the most gullible person on the planet, a take on her character that fans of the strong-willed book version will deplore. It’s hardly the only change the film makes from the books, too, and few of them add anything of value.
Normally these films are carried on the capable shoulders of star Shailene Woodley, but even she looks as disengaged as we are. The same goes for Watts, Daniels, Teller, and…well, it’s hard to tell if James is bored because his expression never changes, anyway. Perhaps it’s the green screen overload, the utter reliance on CGI that has the cast so listless. This is the second Divergent film directed by Robert Schwentke, and while the effects fit for “Insurgent” which was all runnin’ and gunnin’, the slower-paced “Allegiant” could have done with more tangible effects. Coincidentally, Schwentke quit the franchise after this, citing exhaustion. You can feel the cast and crew’s fatigue permeating every frame of “Allegiant”, and sadly there’s still one more to go.