Ansel Elgort, Bureau of Genetic Welfare, Chicago, Divergent Series, Drama, Jeff Daniels, Literary adaptation, Miles Teller, Naomi Watts, Providence, Review, Robert Schwentke, Sci-fi, Sequel, Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Thriller, Veronica Roth
D: Robert Schwentke / 120m
Cast: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer, Jeff Daniels, Zoë Kravitz, Ansel Elgort, Miles Teller, Keiynan Lonsdale, Daniel Dae Kim, Maggie Q, Bill Skarsgård, Jonny Weston, Ray Stevenson, Mekhi Phifer, Ashley Judd
And so Jeanine is dead, killed by Four’s mother, Evelyn (Watts). Everything’s okay and peace has been restored. Except that Evelyn is making sure it comes at a further price: everyone who was on Erudite’s side has to be put on trial and their “crimes” answered for. This means executions on a wide scale, and although Tris (Woodley) has disowned her brother, Caleb (Elgort), he faces the same fate. With the message from outside Chicago still indicating that there are more answers to be found outside the city than in, Tris and Four (James) opt to breach the wall and go in search of those answers. Four decides to help Caleb escape, and the trio are joined by Christina (Kravitz), Tori (Maggie Q), and Peter (Teller). Despite an attempt to stop them by Evelyn’s lieutenant, Edgar (Weston), they climb over the wall and down to the other side.
There they find a toxic wasteland, where the earth is a scorch blasted red. Having been followed by Edgar, the group are relieved when they reach a force field that opens to reveal an armed force. This group protects Tris and her friends from Edgar, and with his threat neutralised, they take Tris and company to their base far out in the wasteland, the so-called Bureau of Genetic Welfare, where Tris in particular is welcomed by the Bureau’s director, David (Daniels). With Tris being the fruit of an experiment to right a wrong perpetrated long ago, David is keen to run tests on her, while keeping Four and the others occupied and away from her as much as possible. But Four is quick to suspect that David isn’t as honest as he makes out, but Tris doesn’t see it.
Meanwhile, back in Chicago, Johanna (Spencer) has formed a group she calls Allegiant, and who are at odds with Evelyn’s way of running things. Another war of attrition is about to take place between the two factions, and though Tris wants David to intervene – after all, he has been monitoring Chicago for a long time because of the experiment – but instead of doing so, he sends Peter back with a nerve gas that will render everyone who comes into contact with it, unable to remember anything that happened to them before they were exposed. And while David takes Tris to meet the Council who ultimately decide everyone’s fate, Four discovers what the gas has been used for in the wasteland. And when Tris finally becomes aware of David’s duplicity, she and Four, along with Christina and Caleb, return to Chicago to stop Evelyn from using the gas on Allegiant.
Three movies in and the Divergent series is showing serious signs that it’s running out of ideas. Allegiant is superficially entertaining, but in comparison with parts one and two, it lacks anything fresh to entertain either fans or newcomers. It’s also the first time that the series gives up on Tris as an independent, strong-minded female, and instead hands over leadership duties to Four – which wouldn’t be such a bad idea if he wasn’t written as a bit of a pompous told-you-so kind of character. (Throughout the series, Four has been the gloomiest character of them all, unable to smile or express his feelings about anything without a frown.) And with Tris relegated to a secondary role, there’s only Daniels left to pick up the slack, as everyone else (James excepted) is afforded only enough screen time to either provide any relevant exposition, or keep the plot ticking over (Spencer and Watts are wasted, while Judd is brought back yet again to add some more of her character’s turgid back story).
The problem with the movie is twofold: one, it’s the first half of the third book in the series, and as such, doesn’t have a credible ending, just another narrowly avoided cliffhanger that leaves things open for part four (or should that be part three-point-five?); and two, the action seems more than usually contrived once Tris et al leave Chicago. The wasteland is less than threatening, and the Bureau is predictably shiny on the surface (and in David’s “office”), while the barracks Four and Christina are assigned to are remarkably similar to those inhabited by Dauntless in the first movie. It’s all brightly lit and commendably shot by esteemed DoP Florian Ballhaus (returning from Insurgent (2015) and already hired for the next instalment), but it’s becoming hard to care what happens to anyone.
At its heart, the Divergent series is about DNA profiling and the perils that can follow on from it. It’s a concept that’s been there in the first two movies, but which hasn’t been addressed directly. But now that it has, and through the medium of video no less, the truth behind the use of Chicago as a test ground, and the true meaning of being Divergent, all sounds quite dull and unexciting. The movie fails to make Tris’s nature important to its own story, and instead opts for being yet another race-against-time thriller, abandoning the ethical and moral debate it wants to engage in and relying on tried and trusted action movie clichés to wind up its narrative.
It’s no surprise that the movie has underperformed at the box office (leading to the final movie, Ascendant, due next year, having its budget cut), because even though Tris makes it out of Chicago, once she does, the movie doesn’t know what to do with her, and for a character as intriguing and interesting as Tris, that’s a terrible decision to make on any level. And it doesn’t help that your central villain is ultimately a harried bureaucrat, a futuristic pen-pusher if you will. That’s another stumble, and especially bad after having Kate Winslet fill the villain’s shoes for the first two movies. It all adds up to a movie that coasts on the success of its predecessors, and feels and looks like a stopgap before the real conclusion in part four.
Rating: 5/10 – another series instalment that will have newcomers wondering what all the fuss has been about, Allegiant is a movie that has little to offer in terms of its characters’ development, or in terms of expanding the wider narrative; Woodley – this series’ biggest asset – is sidelined for much of the movie, and though James is a competent enough actor, he doesn’t have his co-star’s presence on screen, which makes large chunks of the movie something of a chore to sit through.