The Divergent Series: Allegiant
2016, PG-13, 121 min. Directed by Robert Schwentke. Starring Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Zoë Kravitz, Naomi Watts, Miles Teller, Maggie Q, Ansel Elgort, Jeff Daniels, Xander Berkeley.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., March 25, 2016
The concept of world-building is essential to all dramatic arts, but it shouldn’t be the essence of it. To wit: The Wizard of Oz would be pretty thin gruel if it were just about the architectural structure and class breakdown in Oz. World-building is the place setting, not the meal itself. Three films into the ongoing Divergent series, one would hope we’d moved beyond laying plates and folding napkins to get to something more substantial. Yet Allegiant barely makes it to the appetizer course.
It’s a nonstarter, all right, a problem that surely started with the decision to halve the source material – Veronica Roth’s trilogy-capper book – into two separate films. Allegiant means to answer questions raised in the first two films of the Divergent series, set in a futuristic, ruined Chicago that, we discovered at the end of the preceding Insurgent, was a genetic experiment being observed, Truman Show-like, by some maybe-not-so-benevolent overlords. But this ponderous sequel just dangles more question marks – not essential, but irresistible in the absence of a riveting entertainment – such as: How did “chosen one” Tris (Woodley) recover from the second film’s hack job on her hair so fast? (It’s grown out into a very chic bob.) When did this humble warrior find the time, in between small-arms training and overthrowing a government, to learn how to walk in heels? How come every adult here is so creepy? Wouldn’t this all be so much better as a B movie with a sense of humor about so much silliness?
Returning director Robert Schwentke occasionally teases a pulpier aesthetic with the visuals. As Tris, her steadfast boyfriend Four (James), and their friends flee Chicago for a safer haven, the landscape – warped by biological warfare – looks like a sci-fi paperback cover’s version of Mars at magic hour. When they enter that safe haven – Chicago’s O’Hare airport, it turns out, the explaining of which eats up most of the story – Tris’ naked silhouette gets doused in disinfectant goo, a sight that reminded me of the retro weirdness of Altered States. The protective bubbles that surround them as they fly through the air could be some Fifties’ vision of Tomorrowland’s transportation system. Their collective corniness is so much more pleasurable than the film’s otherwise-dour plotting and ongoing insistence on Tris’ specialness – an offshoot of the American exceptionalism argument that seems to drive every one of these YA dystopian franchises. Christianity motifs tend to run through them as well, so let’s all eagerly await Part 2 when Tris gets nailed to the proverbial cross. Can’t wait to see what her hair looks like then.