Film Review – The Divergent Series: Allegiant
The Divergent Series: Allegiant
How many times does Chicago need to be saved? If I were a citizen in The Divergent series, I’d be really upset. Not only would I be oppressed by an evil government, I’d also have to deal with a rebellion so incompetent that they routinely put the entire city in jeopardy. I wouldn’t feel safe if the very people who keep saying, “We deserve peace and freedom!” has to turn around and keep cleaning up after themselves. Instead of The Divergent Series: Allegiant (2016) this should be called The Divergent Series: Redundant.
But let’s give a little credit here. At the very least, this latest adaptation of Veronica Roth’s YA series is the most propulsive entry so far. Director Robert Schwentke directs with forward momentum. There are no tedious scenes of expository dialogue like in the last two installments of The Hunger Games saga. Characters do something. The screenplay (Noah Oppenheim/Adam Cooper/Bill Collage) trusts that we’ve seen the story of Tris (Shailene Woodley) up to this point, and kicks the pacing up with a number of action scenes. You know you’re in trouble when there’s relief that a sci-fi action adventure actually has some sci-fi action adventure in it.
In the previous episode, Tris and her cohorts helped take over the dystopian future world of Chicago from the dastardly hands of Jeanine (Kate Winslet) and her government. The new party, led by Evelyn (Naomi Watts) is in disarray. Instead of a smooth transition, the populace is bloodthirsty, executing members of the former regime. Not liking what they’re seeing, Tris, along with boyfriend Four (Theo James), brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort), Christina (Zoë Kravitz), and Peter (Miles Teller) make their way for the surrounding wall in an attempt to escape the city.
The escape over the wall is the best action set piece of the whole film. The camera zooms up and down, watching our characters scale the wall on ropes as enemies fire upon them from the ground. Florian Ballhaus’ cinematography is cohesive enough for us to see the actors’ faces as they move along the wall. Most modern filmmakers would shake the camera constantly, obscuring our view. This scene has the most thrills the series has offered up to this point. Thank goodness we don’t get anymore of those virtual reality test sessions like in the last two installments. This time the stakes are real – the threat of injury or death has a tangible presence.
The scene is indicative of the franchise as a whole. As often as we see something promising, the narrative takes an about-face and does something ridiculous. Impressive fights scenes are juxtaposed with overdone special effects, none of which look convincing. There is a glossy, artificial texture to all of the environments. Right after we watch Tris and friends hop over the wall there’s an immediate chase scene on the other side. This comes with a CGI infused shot of a humvee jumping over a small ravine, done in extreme slow motion, the driver mean mugging the camera in hilarious fashion. It’s a one step forward, two steps back situation.
What happens to Tris, Four, and the rest of the group on the other side of the wall I’ll leave out. The disappointment of Allegiant is the repetitiveness of the plot. It’s as though the narrative can’t help but move in a circular fashion. Any suspense is washed away because we can guess what lies ahead. We have a group of young people banding together once again to fight against a shady governing power headed by older adults. The theme of discrimination is recycled once more. Instead of separating people by skills and personalities, they are now separated by genetic make up, between those that are “pure” and those that are “damaged,” whatever that means. Even worse, specific events happen in the same locations as the previous entries. I’d wager if you watched this with Divergent (2014) and Insurgent (2015) simultaneously, you would find certain action scenes happening in the same places at the exact same time.
As the main protagonist, Tris has the least agency this go around. For the majority of the runtime she stands around bewildered, believing the explanations of everyone except those closest to her. Even when Four tries to express his doubts, Tris initially brushes him off. This is the guy she has apparently fallen in love with, but what’s love if there’s no trust, am I right? In fact, it could be argued that Four is the real lead character here. He seems the most aware of what’s going on, and takes matters into his own hands because of his confidence in Tris and the belief that what they’re doing is right.
The issue with the Divergent series is that it keeps getting in its own way. Every time something positive happens, something negative comes in and pulls the rug from underneath us. When the story needs to expand and breathe, the filmmakers limit and restrict, regurgitating scenes and plot points. Dramatically, Allegiant didn’t need to exist. Tris’ emotional journey could have concluded with Insurgent. But because we live in a time where everything needs to be stretched out to make a profit, this is what we get. Lucky us.