The third in the Divergent quadrilogy (another book trilogy given a dovetailed final instalment for the movie adaptation), Allegiant picks up in a war-torn Chicago that second film Insurgent had the good graces to destroy with everything gone a bit Thunderdome since the almighty ruler was dethroned. Tris and Tobias, the heroes, find themselves being the voice of reason as they watch Evelyn, Tobias’ mother, take political hold of the city’s factions in a public court that favours justice by execution. So they, along with series regulars Christina, Peter and Caleb decide to venture off by themselves in search of the outside world and – stop me if all of this sounds familiar to you.
Allegiant, while being utterly drab and derivative of its own peers, seems to run through any and every other sci-fi movie of note the film-makers can think of while it moseys along through its own over-wrought plot. After leaving Chicago, the gang stare out into a desert wasteland that looks ripped straight from the early concept art of Mad Max: Fury Road. Caleb, played by Ansel Elgort, tells the group that where they’re walking was recently nuclear – he’s the smart one, y’see – before they’re ambushed by some city folk who want to recapture them and return them to Chicago for some reason. Cue some deus-ex-future people, looking like the police The Fifth Element, who save the gang before whisking them away to another city, one filled with robotics and state of the-art technology, completely removed from Chicago and the nuclear poverty of the actual outside world. In this city, Tris (Shailene Woodley) encounters David (Jeff Daniels), who tells her she’s destined to save the human race via some mix of eugenics and it-sounds-cool biology. But, David isn’t what he seems and it’s up to Theo James‘ Tobias to save her.
And if you thought Tris was the main protagonist, well, you’d be correct. In fact, the film itself can’t seem to decide if it wants Tris or Tobias to be the lead, so it switches at will, mostly following Tobias be the most skilled, good looking fighter to ever come from a dystopian city. For a story so keen to be a heavy-handed, self-righteous metaphor on “perfection” and “damaged” people, the characters handle themselves remarkably well, finding themselves in a eutopian screenplay where their shots never miss and they never seem to really find themselves unskilled enough to lose. They don’t make it hard to notice either, with acting more easily associated with a pulp b-series on SyFy than a mid-level blockbuster. One wouldn’t be remiss to think several of these people were hired for their looks rather than their abilities – think Terry Gilliam as done by Boss For Men.
As far as being the first half of an overall story, it would be quite remarkable for the next instalment, Ascendant, to tie it all together in a way that makes sense. The eugenics plot ends up second fiddle to an attempt to incite civil war that gets caught up in some chemical warfare trappings that just had me wishing they’d pick one and be done with it. Which is genuinely disappointing as the civil war parts – the scenes which had actual meaning and weight to their exposition – are interesting and easily the best handled. Naomi Watts’ turn as would-be new world leader Evelyn is captivating, even without the stiff competition. Her plotline over the three films so far has actual tangible political and personal sacrifice that’s felt as just about the only stakes worth mentioning during Allegiant‘s final stretch.
Before the climax of The Hunger Games last year, it was easy to think that the reason the Divergent series didn’t do so well is because there wasn’t room. No, it’s because the series wasn’t as good, on any level. And coming up to the ending, it’d really have been better if they just didn’t bother in the first place (which is really saying something since the director, Robert Schwentke, also made R.I.P.D). Proving that it is indeed possible to be too “Young Adult fiction”, Allegiant is close to being a satire of itself in all of the wrong ways.