Rated PG-13 for intense violence and action, thematic elements and some partial nudity.
Running time: 120 minutes.
One star out of four.
The confused look on the faces of all the characters in the above photo pretty much tells you everything you need to know about “Allegiant” — I’m sorry, “The Divergent Series: Allegiant.” Because three films into the franchise, the title is now being elongated with extra punctuation and everything. It “matters” now.
Whereas the original “Divergent” from 2014 had the excitement of discovery working for it, this one’s bafflingly self-serious. They just keep getting worse. Following last year’s “Insurgent,” this one’s just a total slog. And unfortunately, it’s not over. As is always the case with movie series based on young adult novels, the third book in Veronica Roth’s trilogy is being broken into two films. The “Harry Potter” and “Hunger Games” franchises employed this tactic with greater success. With “Divergent,” it feels more like a threat than a promise: You thought we were done here? Think again.
“Allegiant” is one overlong, dour placeholder for the actual finale, due out next summer. In theory, though, the premise sounded exciting.
This time, plucky Tris (Shailene Woodley), her hunky boyfriend, Four (Theo James), and their ragtag band of buddies dare to climb the wall that surrounds Chicago in this dystopian near-future to see what’s on the other side. That’s been the mystery all along: What’s out there? How could it be more dangerous and soul-sucking than what’s in here? With the overly simplistic faction system having been dismantled — and Kate Winslet’s power-mad Jeanine out of the picture — they feel emboldened to be the best version of themselves they can be and explore the outside world.
What they find, though, are terrible special effects. Director Robert Schwentke, who also helmed last year’s “Insurgent,” has created a craggy, reddish-fuchsia world where toxic rain bleeds from the sky. It vaguely resembles Mars, but the quality of the visuals is more reminiscent of how crappy the green-screen effects looked in Robert Rodriguez’s “Spy Kids” movies (especially the later ones). A nightmarish landscape that’s meant to be frightening — or at least unsettling — ends up being hilariously cheesy instead.
But Tris and Four also find themselves in the midst of a weird Holocaust allegory. (And maybe this was how it went down in Roth’s book — honestly, I only read the first one.) Children are separated from their parents and rounded up in the name of scientifically achieving genetic purity. (One little boy watches as his father is shot to death right in front of him.) When Tris, Four and their pals are taken into custody by members of the Bureau of Genetic Welfare — er, rescued from this vast, post-apocalyptic wasteland — they’re told to throw their clothes into an incinerator before stepping into a shower for “decontamination.” (The gooey, golden pods that protect them from the elements as they’re carried to safety look especially stiff and strange.)
What are we meant to take from this, I wonder? Is it intended as a cautionary tale? A source of chills and thrills? I’m not sure the film itself even knows. Having a seasoned actor like Jeff Daniels playing the bureau’s creepy chief lends a bit of gravitas, but his character is so obviously evil that there’s no question or suspense as to his intentions. Octavia Spencer and Naomi Watts (in a terrible brunette dye job) as warring Chicago leaders show glimmers of feistiness, but even strong, versatile actresses like these can only do so much with what they’re given on the page. (The script is credited to Noah Oppenheim, Adam Cooper and Bill Collage.)
And then, intermittently, “Allegiant” makes the mistake of trying to be funny. Mostly this comes in the form of Miles Teller as the slithery, opportunistic Peter, whose own allegiances flip-flop to suit his purposes. Basically, Teller has been tasked with showing up and being snarky on cue. Not only is this jarring, it’s an example of the entire supporting cast (including Ansel Elgort as Tris’ uptight brother and Zoe Kravitz as her confident friend) being reduced to one-note roles, which has been a problem throughout the series.
Anyway, Tris must decide between being special in the eyes of of a dastardly genetic purist and special in the eyes of the handsome young man who loves her. Being confused as she’s tugged in both directions is not Woodley’s strong suit; an accessible, abiding naturalism is. Here, she’s been rendered strangely inert, despite the innate physicality of the role. Perhaps next year’s “Ascendent” will allow her to be her own woman, once and for all. But I wouldn’t hold my breath, despite the contaminated air.