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In the world of modern young adult fiction adaptations, it has become fashionable for studios to chop the last book in the series in half. It started with Harry Potter, but soon enough Twilight, and The Hunger Games copied the plan, and even The Hobbit did its own version of the same idea. Of course, the major risk that comes with this strategy is that you end up with a penultimate movie that is just spinning its wheels. The franchises mentioned above are all guilty of this to a certain degree, but its director Robert Schwentke’s The Divergent Series: Allegiant that has revealed itself as the wheel-spiniest of them all.
We pick up almost immediately after the conclusion of The Divergent Series: Insurgent - which revealed the city of Chicago as a grand experiment meant to try and help the human species to perpetuate on what is shown to be a red, crater-filled, scorched Earth. Needing to know more about the research, understand the goals of the program and meet the people running things, Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James), Caleb (Ansel Elgort), Peter (Miles Teller), and Christina (Zoe Kravitz) make their way over the walls that have kept them trapped in Chicago their whole lives – and discover the Bureau of Genetic Welfare, and David (Jeff Daniels), the man running things. While factions led by Johanna of Abnegation (Octavia Spencer) and Evelyn Johnson of the Factionless (Naomi Watts) build towards all-out war against each other, Tris must convince David to intervene in the experiment before it’s too late and violence spreads.
The Divergent Series: Allegiant certainly has its place in the larger narrative that’s been continued by the franchise since launching in 2014, as the story presents plenty of new information for the audience – but the problem is that what’s delivered isn’t nearly enough to justify the film’s 121 minute runtime. There are new applications of visual effects not previously seen in the series, but it’s all flash and bang that just comes between scenes of drawn-out exposition and repetitive sequences (you’ll lose count of the number of times Tris goes up and down in the special elevator to visit David in his special office). When the credits begin to roll, it quickly dawns on you that everything that unfolded could have easily been compacted to just the one-hour first half of a much better-paced conclusion to the Divergent movies.
Obviously, elements of the adaptation from the original Allegiant novel had to change, with the film version including a big, entirely-invented climactic third act action sequence. Unfortunately, this bit of creativity doesn’t really help things, as events unfold that make you question how certain events made it through the editing process without somebody saying, “Wait, that doesn’t make any sense…” It’s spoiler territory that I don’t wish to dive into, but the movie leaves you scratching your head wondering why an open-air city would need a giant ventilation system set up all around Chicago.
In addition to being dull and listless, The Divergent Series: Allegiant also really feels like the first feature in the on-going franchise that is starting to feel the weight of its own not-so-fantastic legacy (earning nowhere near the level of acclaim or fanfare of beloved titles like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games). The studio has fully invested in the four-course schedule for rollout over four years, but there doesn’t exist the passion or high energy required to keep an audience fully invested – with the actors playing out their parts in what can at least be positively described as “efficiently.” There are attempts to construct and look at deeper themes - specifically a surprisingly prescient message about focusing on what unites us instead of divides us as humans – but the emotion and story isn’t there to drive it home.
The word “adequate” is an accurate one in describing the opening two chapters of The Divergent Series, but Allegiant is the first to really be legitimately bad. The ship hasn’t sailed on 2017’s The Divergent Series: Ascendant redeeming the direction of the quality, but Robert Schwentke doesn’t exactly do the follow-up any favors with how he’s left things. Early on the biggest issue with the franchise was that it was simply too complex in the establishment of its sci-fi world – but that’s definitely a whole lot better than just boring the audience.