The locations change and the characters each get a new tattoo, but there’s nothing very divergent about Allegiant, the third screen adaptation in what will be a four-part series based on Veronica Roth’s bestselling YA trilogy. With director Robert Schwentke returning to the helm, and a cast lead by Shailene Woodley suiting up for another sci-fi actioner where big ideas are often bottled down into resounding clichés, this handsomely made effects-driven vehicle offers more of the same and then some — a fact that will hardly bother fans who’ve already pledged their allegiance to the franchise, but won’t convert any nonbelievers.
Slicing Roth’s final novel into two separate movies à la The Hunger Games, and giving us a world-within-a-world conundrum à la The Maze Runner, it’s hard to see what exactly distinguishes this series from its competitors outside an initial premise which, however ridiculous, had a certain hook to it. But now that the various personality factions of Divergent and Insurgent have been dissipated, we’re left with a familiar Brave New World-type scenario where Woodley’s Tris Prior takes on an evil empire that wants to turn humans into genetically purified puppets.
To be Candor about it (using Divergent-speak), this is far from a Dauntless enterprise, and despite four credited writers one often gets the impression that Allegiant was designed by an algorithm trying to please the maximum amount of viewers with the minimum amount of flair or intelligence. Any movie where, about 20 minutes in, the lead character says, “I think we’re finally going to be okay,” guarantees this is not going to happen, yet it takes Tris a good hour to figure that out while everyone in the audience is already several beats ahead of her.
Despite such obvious flaws, the film’s opening reels have a certain panache to them, especially after Tris, her lover Four (Theo James) and their assorted allies or former foes flee a city on the verge of civil war toward a no man’s land that lies beyond a massive concrete wall. (The fact that the city is meant to be dystopian Chicago, and the no man’s land controlled by a fiefdom at O’Hare Airport less than 20 miles away, somewhat detracts from the wonder of it all. But at least these are real places.)
The early scenes allow Schwentke and VFX supervisor Stefen Fangmeier (Wanted) to dish out some impressive effects-pieces, coating Tris and her buds with blood-colored acid rain that pours down on the apocalyptic landscape they hike across, then afterward with a Matrix-like slime meant to decontaminate them when they arrive at the Bureau of Genetic Welfare, where they learn that their beloved Windy City is actually just a giant laboratory experiment under constant observation.
Given new wrist tattoos and new assignments at the Bureau, Tris is sent to meet with the hamlet’s supreme leader, while her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort), her friend Christina (Zoe Kravitz), her frenemy Peter (Miles Teller) and the very skeptical Four are dispatched throughout a military-like complex that looks a lot like the training facilities in the other films — albeit with enhanced technology that includes mini drones and a virtual-reality surveillance network used to monitor Chicago’s activity.
Tris’ big encounter with Bureau chief David (Jeff Daniels) in his Oblivion-style office provides some of the film’s most crucial revelations, including the fact that nearly everyone has been genetically modified except, somehow, for her. Yet these key sequences are undercut by the rather goofy science and psychology behind it all — not to mention the idea that Tris actually believes David has good intentions, while anyone watching Daniels with his buzz-cut and head honcho suit (lapel pin included) can only know that he’s a wolf in designer clothing.
Once the cat is out of the bag, the story heads in predictable directions and does so with little ingenuity or wit, even if Teller’s snarky Peter is there to inject random touches of humor into such a self-serious enterprise. Other characters are given short shrift, with Factionless leader Evelyn (Naomi Watts) and Amity peacemaker Johanna (Octavia Spencer) facing off back in Chicago in what seems to be an entire plotline reduced to a few forgettable moments. Ditto for the ongoing love affair between Tris and Four, which is dispatched with in a handful of sun-drenched tete-a-tetes (and tongue-to-tongues) that feel like pure fluff despite the conviction of the two leads.
Indeed, Woodley has always managed to make Tris and her various transformations — from Dauntless to Divergent, from Divergent to genome queen here — seem rather natural, and she pulls it off once again even though the hair/makeup unit went a bit overboard on the highlights and eyeliner this time. James is fine as her swarthy arm-candy, while the rest of the cast works it way through lots of half-baked dialogue.
Yet even passable performances can hardly dispel the kitsch level of this third installment, especially with a finale whose major plot device looks like it was lifted from an episode of the old Batman TV series. At best, what Schwentke and his skilled craft team have done is set up the major confrontation of the last chapter, providing one or two action highlights along the way — most notably an early scene where Tris and co. scale the wall surrounding Chicago like a band of alpinists from the future. Otherwise, for a film that takes great pride in its heroine’s nonconformism, pretty much everything in Allegiant feels conventional.
Distributor: Summit Entertainment
Production companies: Red Wagon Entertainment, Mandeville Films
Cast: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Miles Teller, Zoe Kravitz, Naomi Watts, Jeff Daniels, Octavia Spencer,
Director: Robert Schwentke
Screenwriters: Noah Oppenheim, Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Stephen Chbosky, based on the book by Veronica Roth
Producers: Douglas Wick, Lucy Fisher, Pouya Shahbazian
Executive producers: Neil Burger, David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman, Barry Waldman
Director of photography: Florian Ballhaus
Production designer: Alec Hammond
Costume designer: Marlene Stewart
Editor: Stuart Levy
Composer: Joseph Trapanese
Casting directors: Venus Kanani, Mary Vernieu
Visual effects supervisor: Stefen Fangmeier
Rated PG-13, 121 minutes