Director: Robert Schwentke
Cast: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Ansel Elgort, Miles Teller, Jeff Daniels, Naomi Watts, Nadia Hilker, Bill Skarsgård, Zoë Kravitz, Octavia Spencer, Jonny Weston, Keiynan Lonsdale, Maggie Q, Daniel Dae Kim
MPAA Rating: (for intense violence and action, thematic elements, and some partial nudity)
Running Time: 2:01
Release Date: 3/18/16
Review by Mark Dujsik | March 17, 2016
It's difficult to tell if this series, which began with Divergent and continued with Insurgent, has gotten better with each successive entry. It feels that way, although the primary kink in the theory is that each of its installments feels completely different from the others. Allegiant, the third and penultimate entry in the series, mostly abandons the dystopian landscape of the ruined Chicago, as well as the social caste system, of the previous movies. Replacing them are the vast wasteland beyond the city and a different way in which this newly discovered society beyond Chicago divides human beings in order to control them.
The shift is drastic, not only in terms of how it changes the dynamics of the series' central conflict but also in how different this movie looks from its predecessors. Gone, for the most part, are the visions of a collapsed and still collapsing urban center. Also gone are the headquarters of the various castes, called "factions," which gave us an understanding of how this society operated. In fact, the factions are gone, too. At the end of the previous movie, our heroine unlocked a mysterious box containing a message from the founders of this society, and you also may recall that there was a quick, decisive revolution. The old boss was killed, and a new boss emerged, seeking to unify the city without the divisions of the factions.
What could possibly be next? That seems to be a question with which even the screenplay by Noah Oppenheim, Adam Cooper, and Bill Collage (working from the book by Veronica Roth) seems to struggle. The second movie was more efficient and effective than the first one, offering a generic chase movie with a few more insights into the backdrop of the overall story that was previously, lengthily introduced in its predecessor. This installment, though, essentially goes back to square one.
There are a lot of new rules here. There is an assortment of new places and ideas. The screenplay has to establish all of these elements, and there is some intrigue to the setup. In what has become something of a running theme for this series, it's the payoff that falls flat.
At the start, Chicago has new leadership. Tris (Shailene Woodley) unlocked the secret of the city and broadcast it to the population. As a result, Evelyn (Naomi Watts) has become the de facto leader of the metropolis, and she is putting the associates of the former leader on trial, including Tris' brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort). Those trials quickly become public executions—a move with which Four (Theo James), Evelyn's son and Tris' lover, vehemently disagrees.
Tris and Four come up with a plan to escape Chicago and find the group that has been conducting the experiment of Chicago. Joining them are Christina (Zoë Kravitz), Peter (Miles Teller), and Caleb, whom Four rescues. As that group traverses the radioactive wasteland beyond the wall, Johanna (Octavia Spencer), a former faction leader, starts a group called the Allegiant, which is loyal to the faction system and is willing to fight Evelyn to bring it back.
The new elements include the wasteland, which looks like an alien planet (Think Mars, with its rust-colored terrain but also with the addition of strange spherical and conical ruins, puddles of blood-red water, and rain of the same hue that pours down from the sky), and the Bureau of Genetic Welfare, the organization that is overseeing the social experiment in a towering, futuristic spiral edifice established amidst the ruins of O'Hare Airport. The head of the bureau is David (Jeff Daniels), who has prepared a video presentation that explains the backstory of this world: a nuclear war brought about by the advances in genetic manipulation a couple of centuries in the past. It doesn't make much sense, but the point is that the bureau is doing its own form of social hierarchy, with the genetically pure being seen as superior to those who are not.
Tris is the first "pure" person to be born in Chicago. David believes she holds the answer to "solving" genetic "impurity." Tris wishes everyone would stop dividing human beings based on arbitrary, inescapable characteristics.
Now the series has arrived at—what we have to assume is—the ultimate conflict—that between those who wish to divide and those who wish to unite. Aside from the players involved and the additional backdrops, this really isn't much of a change from the previous movies, but the first acts of the movie are held together by the notion of exploring these new players and backdrops. The aesthetic shift is interesting, and even though the visual effects used to create this world are underwhelming (especially the cheesy bubbles and ooze that protect and cleanse our heroes from and of toxins, as well as a couple of flying ships), the change of location is a welcome one after the almost uniformly dark locales of the previous movies.
It's not enough, though. The story still feels woefully familiar, and it all leads to yet another race-against-the-clock climax. The world and the story may have expanded in Allegiant, but the series still seems to be stuck in a process of rehashing what has come before it.
Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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