THE DIVERGENT SERIES:
PG-13, 121 mins.
2016, PG-13, 121 mins.
Shailene Woodley as Tris / Theo James as Four / Zoë Kravitz as Christina / Miles Teller as Peter / Naomi Watts as Evelyn / Ansel Elgort as Caleb Prior / Jonny Weston as Edgar / Maggie Q as Tori / Jeff Daniels as David / Bill Skarsgård as Matthew / Nadia Hilker as Nita / Keiynan Lonsdale as Uriah / Courtney Hope as Anna / Joseph David-Jones as Hollis
Directed by Robert Schwentke / Written by Noah Oppenheim, Adam Cooper and Bill Collage / Based on the novel by Veronica Roth
The stakes have never been more non-existent and disinteresting in THE DIVERGENT SERIES as they are in ALLEGIANT, the second last (sigh) installment in a four film series based...on a trilogy of books (double sigh).
I was, in all
fairness, responsive towards the world presented in the 2014
introductory chapter, hoping that its would-be thought provoking
ideas and themes would germinate more in its follow-up, last year’s INSURGENT.
Regrettably, INSURGENT grounded the series to a screeching halt, and
instead of contemplatively expanding the franchise’s character and story
arcs it proved to be a tiresome, watching checking exercise in monotony.
The creative forces behind ALLEGIANT do very little, if anything,
to elevate this material beyond its established laborious and dull tone.
If anything, it spins its wheels so mechanically and dutifully that
one is left to wonder if the makers here are even trying to separate
themselves apart from the already crowded pack of post-apocalyptic young
complained from the get-go that THE DIVERGENT SERIES – based on the novels
by Veronica Roth, unread by me – are woefully plagiaristic of so many
other good examples of the genre it inhabits.
The biggest cinematic sin that ALLEGIANT commits is that, yes, it
continues to overextend its own mythology well beyond the point of anyone
finding it remotely compelling. Worse yet, the series is starting to recycle its very own
narrative beats, this time having the main heroine Tris (the wonderful
Shailene Woodley, doing what she can to keep our interest in the
proceedings afloat) face off against the alluring charm of another
oppressive, dictatorial foe that has a façade of well meaning
congeniality, but underneath that lurks a cold hearted tyrant hell bent on
world domination. THE
DIVERGENT SERIES just spent two films boring us to death with such a plot,
but ALLEGIANT sure thinks that dryly and lazily regurgitating it equates to
strong forward momentum.
I have to admit one thing: I needed to Wikipedia the last film to read its plot synopsis to remind myself of what happened at the end of it for the purposes of this review. ALLEGIANT kicks off pretty much right after the events of INSURGENT, which showed the final destruction of the Faction Society of what’s left of Chicago, leaving its citizens excited to explore the world beyond the walls that entomb their city. Evelyn (Naomi Watts, one of the few actors not pathetically phoning it in here) has decided to execute what’s left of the city’s past oppressive regime leaders. Tris feels like this is an obvious step backwards, so she decides to take matters into her own hands and flees a powder keg of a situation with her posse: her lover Four (Theo James, high on looks, low on charismatic screen presence), Christina (Zoe Kravitz), Peter (Miles Teller, who seems to be an audience surrogate here for acknowledging the series’ outlandishness with his wily performance), and Caleb (Ansel Elgort). After scaling the gigantic walls that surround their hometown (in the film’s only well oiled – but nevertheless preposterous – action sequence), the group discovers that the rest of the planet looks like discarded concept art of “The Scorch” from the last THE MAZE RUNNER sequel.
The red hued
irradiated wasteland around Tris and company is contaminated and
highly toxic, although the degree to which it is contaminated, highly
toxic, and dangerously to humans is never fully explained (even when blood
rain falls on their heads they seem to brush it all off with relative
Tris’ clan comes in contact with a new society in a lavish and opulent
city in the middle of the diseased remnants of Illinois. This “Bureau of Genetic Welfare” is headed up by David
(Jeff Daniels), whom initially takes Tris and company in with open arms
and reveals to them his plans to ensure the safety and survival of the
human race. Part of his plan involves duplicating Tris’ genetic purity
to build a much better utopia, and while doing so he gives her a
high-ranking leadership role within his governmental body.
Four, rather predictably, smells a rat (that his “generically
pure” girlfriend is unable to deduce), but when evidence mounts that David is not
all what he says he is, that forces Tris to re-evaluate her new fangled
role in post-apocalyptic world building as a leader.
I defy anyone to
succinctly describe the overall story arc of THE DIVERGENT SERIES at this
point. What modestly began as
a somewhat intriguing sci-fi allegory about a post-war dystopian city
being segregated into rival factions based on personality types has now
segued into a bizarre and frankly nonsensically silly story about another
repressive regime that wants to use Tris as a pawn, experiment in genetic
purity, kidnap young children away from their parents, spy on its citizens
with some high tech Big Brother surveillance tech, and then – not making
this up – start the world anew by poisoning everyone with mind/memory
altering gas. Tris just spent
a majority of the series engaging in mental and physical wars with evil
rulers that are outwardly well spoken, finely tailored, and seemingly
ultimately want the remnants of the world to do with however they see fit.
Nothing really differentiates David apart from Kate Winslet’s antagonist
from the previous films…other than the obvious gender swap.
The inherent lethargy of the scripting here is baffling.
SERIES has always spent an egregious amount of time in engaging in
expositional dialogue explaining its world without really explaining how
things in it work. ALLEGIANT
is no exception. For example,
how does a seemingly vast, high tech society that resides in the middle of
a toxically hazardous wasteland get its technology?
Where is it manufactured? What
powers their fancy flying crafts and drone technology?
Where do they get their power supply?
Where do they get building materials to make their spotless and
shiny futuristic buildings? How
does a ruler like David and members of his bureau get their stylish
clothing fabricated and tailored (they all look like they’ve stepped out
of a futuristic Prada ad with no apparent shopping malls or stores in eye
sight)? Do textile mills
still exist? Perhaps the most
knee-slappingly amusing question revolves around the film’s positively
giggle-inducing climax, which involves the aforementioned memory-erasing
gas cloud that ominously threatens Tris, her companions, and Chicago as a
whole. I’m no scientist,
but even a scientific philistine like myself understands that the gas
clouds presented in the film here don’t obey natural laws of physics.
The ape-shit crazy and illogically orchestrated third act here – that yet again shows Tris rising to the occasion to establish herself as a headstrong leader and pseudo-messiah figure to save Chicago from tyrants – is eye-rolling enough, but then the heroine delivers a monologue to her people regarding the significance of societal equality that’s about as subtle, on-the-nose and telegraphed as a mallet strike to the cranium. It’s also not helped by the fact that Woodley here, more than ever, appears visibly bored in a role that she once made decent efforts to make soulful and relatable. Depressingly, the film ends on a cliffhanger (of sorts) that will morph into the final cinematic chapter ASCENDANT (the studio here oddly decided not to advertise ALLEGIANT as "Part One" of a two part concluding episode). No YA film series is less deserving of extending its literary source material beyond its three entries as much as THE DIVERGENT SERIES, which takes great laborious pains to superficially stretch out its core themes well beyond a point of narrative necessity.
We all have to wait 18 months for the next DIVERGENT film to finally – fiiiiiinnnnallly – provide absolute series closure. I have no problem waiting.
As a matter of fact, I could wait forever.