As the “Divergent” series unfolds, it feels more and more like a giant bluff. Now in the homestretch, Veronica Roth’s not-too-distant dystopian nightmare is slowly devolving into a needlessly complicated metaphor for high school. There are factions, they keep to themselves, and once you switch factions, you cannot visit anyone from your previous faction. There is melodrama by the truckload. One boy does not like the special attention his girl is getting from the grown-ups, who are grooming her for Bigger, More Important Things. He is jealous. High school, high school, high school.
Society has collapsed inside the walled city of Chicago, where Evelyn (Naomi Watts), leader of the Factionless army and mother of Dauntless badass Four (Theo James), has wrested control and is holding public trials of those who did the bidding of now-dead Erudite leader Jeanine. This includes Caleb (Ansel Elgort), brother of Dauntless heroine Tris (Shailene Woodley). Tris and Four use back channels to spring Caleb from custody, and the three, along with fellow Dauntless Christina (Zoe Kravitz) and Peter (Miles Teller), climb the wall to discover a godforsaken wasteland. This wasteland turns out to be partly artificial, and the group is rescued by a group working for the Bureau, situated where O’Hare Airport used to be. O’Hare, of course, doesn’t mean anything to anyone in the film. That information is solely for the audience’s benefit. As Caleb himself says, “What’s an airport?”
The Bureau is run by David (Jeff Daniels), who has been watching Tris’ entire life from afar like she’s on a warped version of “The Truman Show.” David declares that Tris is the only “pure” divergent in the entire city, while everyone else, factionless or not, is “damaged.” David wants to take Tris to meet his superiors, in order to prove that his Chicago “experiment” is working, and that they are on the verge of a breakthrough. Meanwhile, war is erupting in Chicago between the Factionless army and the once-peaceful Amity faction, renamed Allegiant. That should matter to David, right?
The idea that some people are pure while others are damaged is one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a movie in a long time. Everyone is damaged in some form, and the lengths that this film goes to make this a plausible concept only goes to support my “’Divergent’ is high school” theory. Add on top of that the idea of David making a champion of Tris, the one who fits multiple factions, and you can see a sinister aspect to his endgame: he is throwing personality under the bus for the sake of peace, which essentially makes him the school principal.
And now, some questions we’re not supposed to ask. For example, if the rest of the world outside the largest cities lies in post-fallout ruin, how have those acid rainfalls never fallen on the city of Chicago? I spent ten years in Chicago. Bad weather never, ever misses that town. Secondly, Peter. He’s a traitorous tool, and cannot be trusted. And here you are, bringing him on your great escape. This plot point exists for only one reason, and you all know what it is. Lazy.
The most depressing part about “Allegiant” is that even Woodley seems to have checked out. Jennifer Lawrence still gave the “Mockingjay” movies her all, even though she had to know that they were going to be the worst of the bunch. Woodley, on the other hand, has a golden opportunity to show her range as a character who can allegedly empathize with anyone, yet she seems dead inside. Theo James fares slightly better this time around (meaning, he’s getting better at the side look), and Jeff Daniels is reliable as always as the slippery David. The biggest surprise here is the normally reliable Watts, who doesn’t seem to know what to do with Evelyn. Then again, her issue could also be compounded by the fact that she and Four have all of this conflict that could be resolved in one sentence, if either of them would just shut the hell up and let the other say what they have to say. But of course, they don’t, and their issues continue to go unresolved.
There are some thrilling action sequences, notably the escape over the wall (Adam West would be proud) and the subsequent rappels down some cliff walls. The drones that the Bureau’s soldiers use are also impressive, if a little creepy. Most of director Robert Schwentke’s decisions, though, are unimaginative, to the point where he goes out of his way to foreshadow what’s about to happen next, even though it’s fairly obvious in most instances.
The gap in quality between the “Divergent” series and the “Hunger Games” series is widening with each “Divergent” release. “Allegiant” isn’t an awful movie; it’s just not trying very hard, and doesn’t have anything unique to say. And there’s still one more film left in the series. Fun times.(2 / 5)
This review originally ran March 17, 2016 on Bullz-Eye.com.