A Disappointing Installment In An Already Disappointing Series
Well, it’s not good. In a sea of dystopian YA lit. adaptations, Divergent has always been the runt of the litter, and now this trilogy has come to the first half of its end – and so far, its end is worse than its unimpressive beginning and middle.
Note: As is becoming standard practice, the last book in this series has been split into two movies (see Harry Potter and The Hunger Games for other examples of this trend). This naked money grab is starting to get old, and never older than when it’s attached to a series that wasn’t good in the first place.
If you haven’t seen either of the previous movies in this series (Divergent and Insurgent) it wearies me to think of trying to catch you up. See….everyone lives in Chicago because the rest of the world has been destroyed by war (or so we think, but you know, plot twists are coming). And everyone is divided into factions according to their dominant characteristic – Amity, Abnegation, Candor, Erudite and Dauntless – and by gum, you’d better fit in somewhere. If not you’ll wind up “factionless” and scrounging on the edges of society – or worse, you’ll be labeled Divergent and the government will see you as a threat. That’s what happens to Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) who is sorted into Dauntless and trained as a soldier…but really she’s Divergent and someone is out to kill all of the Divergents, including her bland but handsome boyfriend Four (Theo James). And so the two of them escape from Dauntless and go on a quest to find out what the government is hiding.
That’s the gist of Divergent. Insurgent is mostly about Tris trying to open a box. I’m not kidding.
And now there’s Allegiant, which opens with everyone knowing that there’s something beyond Chicago. The residents of the Windy City have received a communique from the great beyond; someplace like, oh, I don’t know – Joliet? I’m not really good with distance or direction. It seems close enough to traverse on foot in a couple of days but everything beyond Chicago’s wall looks like post-nuclear desert. This is handy for a couple of shots clearly intended to make the viewer think, just for a second, that this movie is as thrilling to watch as Mad Max: Fury Road. In particular, a slow-mo shot of a manic, buzz cut bad guy soaring over our heroes’ heads in his war machine made me want to shout at that screen: “I have seen Fury Road, Sir, and you are no Nux.”
I feel that I am already expending too many words on this movie. Let’s move on.
Tris, Four, Tris’s cowardly brother, Caleb (Ansel Elgort), another former Dauntless soldier, Christina (Zoë Kravitz) and the weasley turncoat Peter (Miles Teller) make their way to a futuristic sanctuary ruled by David (Jeff Daniels). Tris thinks he seems nice enough, and he fills her head with visions of saving humanity from the genetic engineering that has caused such turmoil in Chicago (oh yeah, the absurdity of the faction system is now explained through Science™). Four is far more skeptical of David’s motives. Caleb is trying to prove that he can be trusted after betraying Tris in the previous movies, Peter is trying to game the system (as always), and Christina has almost nothing to do this time around.
The special effects in Allegiant are very silly. People float around in some sort of plasma bubbles, or receive gooey detoxing showers; small disk drones become personal weapons shields; and Caleb tappity-taps away on a keyboard and flicks at holograms in front of him as he surveils what’s happening back in Chicago. By this way, this is Caleb’s job in their new home, and Peter’s as well. They have to watch what is happening in Chicago in real time and then file daily reports. All that technology and people still have to write TPS reports? This really is a dystopian future.
Still, the set design in Allegiant is interesting. The architecture in this city is very bright and shiny and post-modern; the sort of Seussian style that shows up so often in Sci-Fi. In the future, everyone will hate straight lines and furniture – at least, that’s what I’ve learned from the movies.
There’s also a lot of curious attention given to clothes in Allegiant. Everyone wears dark blues, grays and blacks – everyone, that is, but Tris. There is much talk about her being a “pure” human…so…I guess that explains why she is issued all white clothes? Not especially attractive clothes,though – it’s like one of those modular wardrobes that certain stores tried to foist on us in the ’90s: “With some casual slacks, sleeveless shells and a little white dress you’ll be ready for every occasion!”
Everyone in the cast seemed bored, or slightly pained, or faintly apologetic – even the reliable Jeff Daniels, and Naomi Watts as Four’s mother. I think Shailene Woodley is a decent actress, so the sooner she leaves this all behind her, the better. I don’t know about James: he seems to have gone to the Henry Cavill school of acting – which is to say, be handsome and broody, and don’t worry too much about the acting.
Finally, to add insult to injury, Allegiant departs significantly from the book on which it is based. My daughter, who has read all of the books, watched the movie with me and was indignant over the changes. If your movie is marketed to the teenage fans of a book series, some respect for the source material might be a bonus.
As I said, it’s not good: not even as an action film, not even as a guilty pleasure, not even as a conversation starter to discuss Totalitarian governments and how everyone is important and has rights, etc. Nope. It’s just a badly made installment in a dreary series. No more Divergent movies are necessary. No Effulgent or Intransigent, or whatever they’ll be calling the next one. An evening with a Pungent pile of laundry and some Detergent would have been just as enjoyable.