By Kyle G. King. The Young Adult genre has found a golden formula in its adaptation from novel to the big screen: start with a script that plays fan service by sticking to the source material as much as possible, spend months on casting the perfect lead to carry your franchise, and be sure to stretch out your saga to as many movies as possible — even invoking parts 1 and 2 at the final chapter if need be. In being the tough little sister of the genre, The Divergent Series has a lot to prove to its bigger Harry Potter and Hunger Games siblings that not only can it hold its own, it can create its own identity. For a series so hellbent on breaking itself (and its characters) free from categorization, The Divergent Series once again fails to elevate to anything beyond its own self-importance.
With Allegiant, the imprisoning wall surrounding a post-apocalyptic Chicago still remains. As Tris (Shailine Woodley) watches a rigged jury execute the fallen soldiers of Jeanine, she can sense the civil war that’s coming. And as factionless commander Evelyn (Naomi Watts) and former Amity Leader Johanna (Octavia Spencer) clash for power over the fate of the now leaderless and factionless Chicago people, Tris looks to beyond the wall for help. She, her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort), her hunky bae Four (Theo James), her close cohort Christina (Zoe Kravitz), and for some reason Peter, a man they all continue to trust when they absolutely shouldn’t (Miles Teller) all scale the wall in search of help from a better world they’ve all long dreamed about.
The clan’s better world turns out to be populated by another group of militarized government bureaucrats with unclear goals that claim to help people. When genetics bureau chief officer David (Jeff Daniels, in the calm but boiling headspace of Newsroom‘s Will McAvoy) takes a special interest in the genetically pure Tris, she seems willing to trust him — even after Four warns her against it. Such naivety has been the biggest misstep with The Divergent Series so far; they make the same mistakes again and again as they move their chess pieces around the board only to find themselves sitting on the same places.
Again Tris is far too trusting of an adult in power. Again she doesn’t listen to Four. Again Peter betrays their trust, and again nobody knows what to do with Zoe Kravitz (beyond an extra body that can tick the franchise’s race and gender boxes). Tris (and the audience) learns the same basic lessons over and over again as the filmmakers seem far more interested in flashy action movie gizmos than actively avoiding any broad cliches that come their way. And with Allegiant, there are quite a number of them.
It should go without saying that the Young Adult genre adheres itself overtly to moralistic storytelling, but confining characters within a Matrix-like after school special isn’t a superior way to help its target demographic connect with it — even if you dress them up like leather-clad babies. The world building political tug-of-war in Veronica Roth’s books are strong, but the film series that has spawned from it has severely lost its way. If The Divergent Series really wants to set itself apart from other YA franchises, they’ll need to do more for their leading stars in way of a better script.
A much more “politically charged” follow-up to the action packed Insurgent, Allegiant Part 1 suffers as its politics is given a closer scrutiny. Though its leads certainly have the chops to manage such material (and it’s always fun to watch Miles Teller break the tension), they’re often left with little to work with in a story of such black and white morality. With one movie left to this teenaged saga (it’s due out next year), The Divergent Series has but one final chance to prove itself among its YA peers. After Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant, audiences are becoming restless with the same old tropes recycled again and again. Perhaps the next one can be called Impatient.
Directed by Robert Schwentke.
Produced by Douglas Wick, Lucy Fisher, and Pouya Shabazian.
Screenplay by Noah Oppenheim, Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, and Stephen Chbosky.
Based on Allegiant by Veronica Roth
Starring Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Jeff Daniels, Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort, Zoë Kravitz, Maggie Q, Ray Stevenson, Daniel Dae Kim, Bill Skarsgård, Octavia Spencer, and Naomi Watts.
3 out of 10