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The Divergent Series: Allegiant – Part 1| Review

Once More With(out) Feeling: Schwentke Barrels Along with Malingering Franchise

divergent_series_allegiant_posterIf we’ve reached uncomfortable saturation levels with super hero tent poles, the same conversations should be had concerning various YA dystopic franchises, with various properties making concentric circles around the other, including adopting the increasingly obnoxious practice of breaking third chapter novels into two separate cinematic overtures. While even the more convincing recent examples are merely repurposed, derivative pulp, a legion of copycat properties, all featuring predominantly white females tasked with saving the universe and/or positioned as the lucrative prize of two male suitors with barely defined romantic or emotional registers, have usurped the norm. Despite the added benefit of evident agency allotted its female leads, many of these ‘powerful’ heroines hardly circumvent notions of gender, racial, or sexual orientation norms, which is a pity considering just how many similar franchises and standalone films (The Hunger Games; Twilight; The Host; The Giver, and more) have circled around the exact same issues. And so we come to Veronica Roth’s Divergent series, which kicked off in cinemas in 2014 and makes half of its last lap with part one of the last written installment, Allegiant. German import Robert Schwentke (Flightplan; RED), who directed last year’s second chapter, Insurgent, returns to the plight of Tris. If you can remember where the last segment’s send-off left us, the staunchly capable heroine survived another great ideal and arrives with a new, suspiciously highlighted hair do to conquer the hinterlands beyond Chicago.

After successfully defeating the tyrant Jeanine, Tris (Shailene Woodley) and her beau Four (Theo James) are mired a squabble for control amongst the city’s leaders. Four’s mother Evelyn (Naomi Watts) wishes to usurp Chicago and embodies a troubling Trump fever concerning anyone crossing the great wall protecting the city from the unknown landscape beyond. But Evelyn’s tactics have rankled ex-faction leader Johanna (Octavia Spencer), which promises another war. Tris is convinced the answer to their problems lies outside Chicago, and together with her band of followers, she saves her brother (Ansel Elgort) from a war crimes trial and they daringly escape the city. Surprisingly, they discover a group of technologically advanced humans who have grown up watching the denizens Chicago via the safety of the O’Hare Airport. Quickly, Tris falls under the tutelage of their leader, David (Jeff Daniels), who claims she is the resulting success of the experiment, a genetically pure human proving mankind’s genome manipulations can be eradicated through time. With Tris’ help, he can convince the controlling committee to intervene with the current conflicts in Chicago. But is David to be trusted?

Shailene Woodley’s performance has undergone a similar drop in enthusiasm as fellow franchise leading ladies Kristen Stewart and Jennifer Lawrence were accused before her, and her monotonous execution here is certainly understandable. Despite all the twists and turns of the promisingly complex Divergent universe, Roth’s scenarios are merely rearranging similarly formulated dramatic conflicts, each one ending as if ascending to a more adavanced level plagued by problems of the same ilk in a video game. If cinema were fast food (if box office is any indication, mainstream audiences seem fine with such an analogy, anyway), it would be difficult to pair Divergent with its spirit chain, considering there’s much worse (The Mortal Instruments) and much sillier (The Maze Runner). Most fittingly, experiencing Allegiant seems akin to a Jack in the Box kinda night, plenty of selections to rouse interests in most tastes but not really exceling at any one aspect.

One almost misses the bewildering distraction of Suzanne Collins’ chewy character names from The Hunger Games, for its difficult to build any serious tension around the evil baddies Roth concocts, like the recently dispatched Jeanine (RIP), and here the increasingly agitated Evelyn and Johanna, both rather blandly played by award winning actresses Naomi Watts and Octavia Spencer. Speaking of bland, if we could just all agree to cut the tedious romantic drama between Woodley and Theo James’ Four, at least the two hour (or plus) running time of each series installment could at least be more easily fashioned into an agreeable ninety minute window. Sure, both actors seem more than willing to dance into one another’s arms as necessary, but it’s about as provocative as the lumps of dough exploding out of a crescent roll tube when the packaging is manipulated.

It’s hard to tell if production designer Alec Hammond has either given up or simply isn’t allowed to stray from a predetermined visual template. Lazy motifs concerning Tris’ genetic purity are relayed by placing her into a swan white cocktail dress with matching heels as she succumbs to Jeff Daniel’s (here only slightly more menacing than his NASA director from The Martian) considerable lies before coming to her better senses. Miles Teller and Jonny Weston continue to set teeth on edge as one note caricatures, while poor Zoe Kravitz sits hungrily on the sidelines, once more, proving to have the same doe-eyed beauty and mildly compelling screen presence as her co-star yet still buttoned up in a supporting character who is merely a step above the chorus.

Not terrible enough to demean for its narrative languidness (this installment making mincemeat out of ideas used in The Truman Show and Escape from New York) and certainly not commendable in any regard, the flavorless mouthful The Divergent Series: Allegiant – Part One most perturbingly prophecizes an inevitable second part as it hovers on the fumes of other narratives.


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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