The Divergent Series: Allegiant is the third film in a four film franchise based on the popular young adult book series. Allegiant takes place in a post-apocalyptic Chicago which is walled up around the city’s perimeter. Tris (Shailene Woodley) rounds up a group of her friends to escape the city, when they venture out the safety of walled up Chicago, they discover that the world outside is not as desolate as it was thought to be. They slowly adjust to their new surroundings but a brewing civil war back in Chicago will test where their loyalties lie.
Films are supposed to stand on their own legs, with no help from backstory or relying on past entries in the franchise. I am going to make it clear, I did not watch the rest of the films in the Divergent series. However, I find that it should not be an excuse for a film’s flaws and problems. Allegiant fails as a movie, stuck as a transitional entry in between the beginning of the franchise and its end, it suffers from lack of clear focus on what it wants to be. The plot is rarely coherent, with the film attempting to overcompensate by info dumping on backstory or previous films, but such frequent uses of exposition only confuses or bore the audience, barely giving them enough time to digest the previous scene before being force fed another.
The dialogue runs the gamut of hammy to overwrought with teenage angst, Tris and her lover, Four (Theo James) constantly remind us they are in love, as they stare lovingly into each other’s eyes. Not only is it hackneyed, it comes across as extremely lazy, none of their scenes together actually progress their romantic arc, serving only as a weak reminder so we don’t forget they are actually a couple.
While the romantic scenes are reminders, the action scenes attempt to entertain but fails due to their predictability. The escape over the wall comes to mind, we all know Tris and her group of escapees would find their way over the wall, so why waste time on an unnecessary action scene that only serves to kill off a minor character that everyone forgets? There is no sense of consequence and stakes in the screenplay and all major characters have their character shields at full power, which makes the narrative predictable.
By the third act, Tris has faded to the background, as underdeveloped characters from the first two acts start taking up the screen, due to little to no prior character development, we don’t really care about their sudden emergence and the film is unable to balance these various plot points.
There is a dominating perception of genericity in the film, nothing truly stands out, the cinematography is serviceable but really, considering this is a science fiction film, one that has their characters running through crater filled crimson deserts and majestic white towers, one would expect better. Despite spending a significant time outside the wall, we never truly experience the world, every scene that had visual potential was shot in close up, probably for budgetary reasons, while anything shot in wide is either on a set or animated with poor CGI. With the exception of a scant few gorgeous establishing shots that haunt us with all the missed opportunities, there is nothing that visually pops from the screen.
Performances by the principle cast tend to be dry and mechanical. Shailene Woodley is docile and disinterested as Tris, droning away her dialogue, never truly coming alive. The characterization of Tris is also problematic, despite being the protagonist, she evaporates as the film progresses, as other characters such as Four take up more screen time.
Four does not get to do more beyond being part of several Jason Bourne-esque fight scenes and perhaps it is for the better, as Theo James seems way out of his league in emotional scenes with his mother, Evelyn (Naomi Watts), who owns every scene she is in with her son. Along with Watts, Jeff Daniels tries his best to add layers to his role as the manipulative David, constantly tugging on the strings of characters like a grandmaster on a chessboard, but the character himself lacks screen time, and it is simply isn’t enough to save the film.
Watching Allegiant, they are obviously pandering to two sections of audiences, it wants to work as a film for newcomers, hence the expository dialogue and it wants to appeal to fans of the franchise. It fails at doing both. Despite a few beautiful establishing shots, there is nothing Allegiant can offer that hasn’t already been done in its two genres, young adult film adaptations and post-apocalyptic science fiction.
With the exception of a few beautiful shots of scenery and good performances by Naomi Watts and Jeff Daniels, newcomers to the franchise will be put off by the film’s banality while fans will find this a forgettable entry in the series.
Perry Lam is an Associate Editor of Rochford Street Review. He is the director of the documentary short film BLACK RAT has been selected for numerous film festivals both in Sydney and overseas. https://rochfordstreetreview.com/2016/02/02/welcome-perry-lam-rochford-street-review-associate-editor/