By Chaz Lipp
As the third movie in the lucrative Divergent series continues to rack up negative reviews (it’s sitting at 10% “Fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes), the temptation exists to keep piling right on. Allegiant has its fair share of problems, chief among them being dramatic inertia. Did the third novel in Veronica Roth’s YA series really require two separate films? What could’ve been the final film in a trilogy is actually a time-marking “part one” of the conclusion, with Ascendant following next year. Having enjoyed the first two films (and the Divergent concept in which people are categorized into factions based on their chief personality virtues), I tried hard to appreciate the new film but ultimately can’t view it as anything other than a setback to the series.
With Jeanine out of the picture following the close of the previous film (Insurgent), Factionless leader Evelyn (Naomi Watts) is executing anyone she feels presents a threat to her new order. Chicago is in turmoil as Evelyn’s kangaroo courts determine people’s fate. Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James), and their allies make a break for the electrified border wall. So far, so good. Well, except for the rather cheesily-staged “angry mob” scenes. For a big-budget movie, some of the large crowd scenes don’t convince. It’s almost as if director Robert Schwentke is so accustomed to digital environments that he doesn’t know how to handle live people on practical sets.
Once Tris, Four, Peter (Miles Teller), and Tris’ brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) get out into the toxic wastelands that lie beyond city limits, Allegiant falls into a holding pattern. Occasionally we check in with Evelyn, who’s locking horns with Johanna (Octavia Spencer; both she and Watts are great actresses but neither seems quite sure how to play their underwritten roles) over how to proceed post-Jeanine. Also, Evelyn’s naturally concerned about the whereabouts and well-being of her son Four (though the mother-son dynamic never rings emotionally true; maybe due in part to 31-year-old Theo James seeming a better romantic match for Watts).
As The Who sang, “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss,” which sums up the transparently no-good David (Jeff Daniels). David lords over the wildly technologically-advanced outside world (who’s funding all this, given that there’s no societal infrastructure or commerce system in place?), easily convincing the “divergent” Tris that all her compatriots are “damaged” in one way or another. Tris is mostly out of commission in Allegiant, leaving boyfriend Four to piece together the corruption being orchestrated by David. And Peter, once again, is conveniently ethically-compromised when he needs to be. He and Caleb are given inordinately wide-ranging access to Chicago via a virtual-reality surveillance system that allows them to eavesdrop on anything, anywhere. Peter’s still a slimeball when presented with self-serving temptation; Caleb is out to redeem himself in Tris’ eyes.
There are a few decently-staged action sequences, but too many scenes designed to carry an emotionally charge simply fall flat. The entirety of Allegiant feels not like a compelling story in its own right, but rather a two-hour ramp up to the coming finale. Let’s hope Ascendant puts Tris back in the driver’s seat. She was so slow on the uptake regarding David, it’s a wonder Four didn’t dump her.
The Divergent Series Allegiant Images: Summit Entertainment