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Don't Pledge Allegiant

 120 Minutes
Rated: PG-13
Directed byRobert Schwentke 
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James

Watching The Divergent Series: Allegiant, the third installment in the YA science fiction franchise, reminded me of a classic cinematic conversation between Richard Attenborough and Jeff Goldblum in another well known sci fi sequel, The Lost World: Jurassic Park. In telling scientist Goldblum that he’s in the process of rebuilding the doomed amusement park, Attenborough cheerfully boasts, “Don’t worry; I’m not making the same mistakes again.” Goldblum’s classic reply, “No, you’re making all new ones.”


As viewers finally learned at the end of the previous Divergent film, Insurgent, the “world” in which the main characters lived was actually a civilization constructed by some mysterious powers-that-be generations earlier that resulted in people being assigned as teenagers into various factions for life. And, as might be expected, this grand social experiment went off the rails, resulting in the ruthless autocratic rule of the dominant faction. At the end of Insurgent, Tris (Shailene Woodley), who led the insurgency that brought down the old regime, realized how she’d been used and duped.


Now, a year later, we get a new movie, Allegiant, and it seems to be merely an exercise in making all new mistakes that are pretty much minor variants on the mistakes in the earlier films. The new rulers of Chicago, led by Evelyn (Naomi Watts), turn out to be just as vicious as the former ones and try to prevent people from leaving the city to see the world beyond. Tris, her boyfriend (and Evelyn’s son) Four (Theo James), her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort), and a few of her friends do manage to get away and try to find out what lies beyond.


Actually, what lies beyond would make any sane person want to head back to Chicago in a New York minute. It’s a desolate wasteland, reminiscent of the world of Mad Max, but with the added bonus of deadly acid rain. Eventually the survivors of Tris’s group are rescued by an airship coming from the only outpost of civilization around. That turns out to be a scientific facility maintained by the Bureau of Genetic Research, whose leader David (Jeff Daniels) soon explains everything to Tris.


David admits to Tris that their attempts to rebuild Chicago using the faction system went awry, but he is convinced that the reason for the failure was, get this, damaged genes. Everyone in Chicago, with the exception of Tris, has damaged genes, which causes them to behave in a self-destructive manner. Tris alone has pure genes, and, if David can figure out why, he can start “curing” the city. An impressed Tris agrees to help, while her friends predictably are considerably more skeptical.


As David began his dissertation on pure and damaged genes, I stared intently at the screen, looking to see if the production design included any swastika stand-ins, since David’s lines could easily have been delivered practically verbatim by Dr. Josef Mengele. And, had Jeff Goldblum somehow been cast in Allegiant, he could have delivered the exact same reply to David.


Goldblum could also have delivered that same reply to the studio brass at Lionsgate, who are determined to milk the Divergent series for every dollar they can. So, they made the same mistake that the producers of The Hunger Games did, dividing a single novel into two movies. But the results here are even worse than in The Hunger Games because the producers exhausted their entire store of ideas in the first two movies of the Divergent series.


Not having read author Veronica Roth’s books, I don’t know how faithful Allegiant is to the source material (although I suspect the typical Hollywood dumbing down of novels is at play here as well). But having seen and read about numerous similar futuristic dystopian nightmares over the years, I can say that Allegiant is bereft of any innovative ideas. And, to make matters worse, the padding and excessively wordy explanations that the characters engage in to make four hours of material out of two make the inane blather even more tiresome to sit through.


In addition, most of the secondary characters are relegated to near bit part status (or killed off in the first act). Tris and Four do get romantic, as fans of the series will doubtless enjoy, but their happiness is short lived, as they keep getting separated. The only interesting secondary character is the duplicitous Peter (Miles Teller), who gets to engage in his usual pastime of switching sides at the drop of a hat. Teller, at least, is fun to watch and doesn’t take the material or his role seriously. The other cast members seem as if they have been filmed performing endless dry runs of the exact same scenes.


The first half hour of Allegiant contains the best action in the film, as Tris and Four have to scale the hundred-foot high wall surrounding the city and avoid their pursuers. Director Robert Schwentke, who also helmed Insurgent, does a great job of staging the wide-open set pieces. However, subsequent action sequences, including a supposedly suspenseful finale that threatens to destroy everyone in Chicago (and makes no sense from the standpoint of the overall plot), are desultory.


The Divergent series has always seemed like a pale imitation of The Hunger Games, down to its lead actress, Shailene Woodley, who hasn’t had nearly as successful a career as has Jennifer Lawrence. This is due in part to the fact that Hunger Games came first, both in book and film form, and in part to the inherently greater dramatic appeal of humans hunting other humans (a theme that’s been around since the 1930’s.). So, while the third movie in both series represents a major step backwards, the quality dropoff wasn’t nearly as drastic or as noticeable in the earlier series. Here, the audience is left with a completely listless, talky, recycled mess that doesn’t even leave them with much hope for a rousing finale. The Divergent series was merely passable to begin with; by now, it’s diverged far too much.       

Read other reviews of The Divergent Series: Allegiant:


Allegiant (2016) on IMDb