Movie Mayhem – The Divergent Series: Allegiant

Unlike The Hunger Games or Harry Potter, I have yet to read Veronica Roth’s Divergent novels (though I do have them sitting on my bookshelf). The reason I bring this up is because it means I have no basis for comparison. With The Hunger Games and Harry Potter, I knew the story, knew all the secrets and knew where they were headed… and when the filmmakers changed things up, the reaction was anywhere from mild annoyance to mind-numbing aggravation (really? you’re going to cut out Voldemort’s entire back story?). Divergent is entirely different. Because I have no frame of reference, my enjoyment for this series comes directly from the filmmaker’s vision. I have no idea how much may have been changed or altered to better fit the cinematic adaptation. All I have are what’s come before, and through that, The Divergent Series: Allegiant may have its issues, but is still a good continuation of the series thus far.

The Divergent Series: Allegiant — 2016; Directed by Robert Schwentke; Starring Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Jeff Daniels, Naomi Watts, Ansel Elgort and Miles Tellar

After officially taking down Jeanine (Kate Winslet, only in spirit) and learning that the citizens of Chicago are nothing but an experiment to help procure the betterment of the human race by an unknown community living in the wastelands, Tris (Shailene Woodley) is eager to see what’s on the other side of the wall that’s “protected” them for so long. Standing in her way is Evelyn (Naomi Watts), who capitalizes on Jeanine’s demise by filling the leadership hole and utilizing her band of factionless thugs to lock down the city and punish the Erudite and Dauntless faction members who held a strong allegiance to Jeanine, including Tris’s brother, Caleb (Ansel Elgort). This power trip not only upsets Tris, it aggravates Johanna (Octavia Spencer), leader of Amity, to the point of changing their faction name to Allegiant and igniting a war against Evelyn for peace and cooperation.

But where would Tris (and the plot) be without her amazing amount of stubbornness? Still locked in blind numbness, most likely, which would make for one boring story. Tris isn’t about to let Evelyn tie her hands, so she enlists her band of misfits, including best friend Christina (Zoë Kravitz), frenemy Peter (Miles Teller) and boyfriend Four (Theo James), to break Caleb out of Evelyn’s trial and escape the wall. Luckily, all of the factionless have worse-than-Stormtrooper aim and allow the gang to escape to the apocalyptic world on the other side of the wall, a baron wasteland where the sky “bleeds” because of past radiation. How this rain, which is pretty constant, doesn’t ever  make its way into Chicago is beyond me, but let’s not think about that. The point is, there’s very little to see, and hope for a better tomorrow is all but lost for our beloved heroes. That is until they realize a section of the wasteland is hidden behind a fancy wall that hides another city — the Bureau of Genetic Welfare — full of wild and exciting new technology and opportunity.

The Bureau is a very welcome place. The newcomer’s are treated as celebrities, as the citizens of the Bureau have essentially been watching them their entire lives, and are integrated quickly into the daily lives of the new system. Four and Christina are assigned jobs in the military faction — er, division? Establishment? Section? — while Caleb and Peter are given duties as what amounts to spies, watching the city all day for anything important to report. Tris is special; she’s sent immediately to join the Bureau’s director, David (Jeff Daniels), in his penthouse laboratory, where she will help him find the final pieces in creating a “pure” human specimen. Or so he says. But is there something more sinister lurking underneath the supposed truth of the past? Of course there is. Can anyone be trusted in this series, other than our titular duo?

There are a lot of secrets plaguing the plot of Allegiant, which begs the question — how much manipulation can one movie administer before it becomes too much? What is David’s ultimate goal? Who are the Counsel, and what is their end-game? How much control does David have in dealing with the citizens of Chicago? How many other cities are out there, if any? Who are the people living out in the Fringe, and how have they survived in the radiated landscape, if the radiation is even a factor? Can David be trusted, and if so, how much of what he says is actually the turth, or just a means to an end? And then there’s Peter…

Peter has always been a jumble of mixed messages, but one thing’s for certain — he’s going to look out for himself at every turn. But as the writers continue to twist him around so often, the question becomes, how does anyone trust him? Or better yet, how does he continue to get manipulated? Yes, he’s full of himself and believes that he’s all but invented manipulation, but to continually use and be used, sometimes at the same time, he constantly makes the same bad decisions. There really isn’t any character growth there, nor is there any growth in any character but Tris, who does continue to grow, albeit slowly, into the leader she’s destined to become. Then again, that growth always seems to be two steps forward, one step back… which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if it wasn’t for her development being riddled with her own manipulative emotion coaster. When she’s put through the decontamination shower upon arrival at the Bureau, Tris is understandably hesitant about everything. But the moment she meets David, and is told her mother was born in the Fringe, she automatically trusts everything he says?  The logic is a bit strained.

I’m not a big fan of producers and studios splitting the last chapter of a book into two movies just to stretch the series out as long as possible and make a few extra bucks, but unlike Mockingjay Part 1 (and in some ways, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) at least Allegiant didn’t feel like simply a prologue. It has a life of its own, everyone continues to deliver very good performances (even those who don’t last long), and though there was less than stellar special effects in multiple cases, I’m looking forward to finding out how the Divergent series will come to a close.

My Grade: A-

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Next week, new movies include Superman v Batman: Dawn of Justice and My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. If you would like to see a review of one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.

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