Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Divergent Series: Allegiant movie review.

Trends are known to come and go, as when a particular film of any mold becomes popular, it will inevitably have numerous copycats and cash ins attempting to steal its thunder. After the success of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, studios soon started getting their own adaptations of fantastical book series off the ground, some successfully like The Chronicles of Narnia, while others like Eragon flopped miserably.

The latest trend setter came in the form of the adaptation of The Hunger Games trilogy, whose own success led to studios creating their own adaptations of Young Adult action novels set in dystopian futures. One of these comes in the form of Divergent, based on the books by Victoria Roth, a film franchise that even "fans" of the source material acknowledge isn't very good, and if anything, the fact that it's made it to three feature films with a fourth on the way already is a testament more to apathetic obligation than passionate commitment. Not only fans, but it seems even the cast and crew have left any and all enthusiasm at the door by this point.

Following the events of Insurgent, the five factions and factionless inhabitants of a dystopian Chicago are growing restless, and civil war between the supporters of factionless leader Evelyn (Naomi Watts) and Amity leader Joanna (Octavia Spencer) is imminent due to rising tensions. Divergent rebel Tris (Shailene Woodley) decides to venture beyond the walls of the city to discover the secrets of the outside world, joined by love interest "Four" (Theo James), and friends Christina and Peter and brother Caleb (Zoe Kravitz, Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort, respectively). When they're rescued in the wastelands by the Bureau of Genetic Welfare, led by Jeff Daniels' mysterious administrator David, the many truths that the group eventually discovers will test the limits of what they're willing to sacrifice... Or whatever.

In case you're curious, I'll give you a brief rundown of what I thought of the first two films. I was actually one of the few who quite enjoyed the first Divergent film, given that it was a genuinely fun and occasionally exciting, if simplified and ridiculous film, and Shailene Woodley anchored it with a rock solid leading turn. Insurgent could hardly say the same thing, for despite the fact that it had more action than the montage heavy first installment, its excitement was all superficial, burdened by nonsensical twists and turns ripped off from The Matrix, and fitted with laughable faux-psychological action scenes. Despite it all, I was genuinely hoping Allegiant would give me some entertainment value, and could make solid use of its impressive cast.

Unfortunately, that was not the case. Allegiant is every bit as bad as you've heard.

It's actually kind of ironic that in a series that is based all around the heavy-handed message that you shouldn't be branded, or brand yourself by labels, this series has gradually become even less indistinguishable from the countless other YA franchises on the market. The most common comparison that one can make is obviously to The Hunger Games, given that both are heavily reliant on their strong yet vulnerable female protagonists, but it's also quite funny how much these films have shared in common with The Maze Runner films as well, given that Insurgent's plot largely revolved around characters trapped in an experimental community capped off by an ending confirming the environment to be a governmental test, and now Allegiant shares strands of The Scorch Trials DNA mixed with Mockingjay. Perhaps it's simply a testament to how ubiquitous YA franchises are becoming that they would all start blending together, but Allegiant is especially sinful in how it doesn't even try to mask its apathy, feeling by its conclusion like it was made simply to exist.

Even with three films currently in its roster, it's baffling how little genuine stakes these movies have established up to this point. None of the characters seem to have developed into any new or interesting directions following the first movie, and because we don't feel any attachment to these characters, the film's attempts at suspense ring hollow, which is made worse by how frequently Allegiant drops potentially interesting conflicts. Rather than a split between the five factions of Chicago, Allegiant rehashes it into a divide between Pure and Damaged human beings, with Tris being set up as some "key" to helping both sides that the film never actually sees through, and the civil war between the factions and factionless being nothing more than infrequent pop ups to fool the viewer into thinking the film is more exciting than it is. At this point, should I even care who's being terrible to who, whether Tris will be able to save her friends, or what happens to this entire city of zero note faces?

Subtlety certainly isn't a strong suit for the film, as the screenplay is riddled with stupid decision after stupid decision, such as characters turning blind eyes to obviously incriminating acts, and the characters don't seem to have learned anything from past mistakes, including letting the backstabbing Peter join their ranks yet again, even though no one likes the guy and they're well aware of his habit of betrayal to serve his own self-interest. That said, their suspicions are correct from time to time, as the sinister Bureau, who are essentially a less engaging Cerberus from Mass Effect, are so obviously evil and corrupt that it almost becomes comical. If I were rescued by a secret organization stationed in the middle of nowhere, with a suspiciously vague Jeff Daniels as its main representative, I wouldn't be willing to trust them either.

Shailene Woodley started out as a committed and commanding leader for the previous two entries, but she clearly feels embarrassed to be a part of the material handed to her, and any and all chemistry she's had with Theo James up to this point has immediately evaporated. Out of the supporting players, Zoe Kravitz gets neglected and tossed to the side until the last act gets underway, Ansel Elgort continues to stumble around aimlessly, and Miles Teller, having a rocky post-Whiplash career, basically does whatever he wants like he would rather be doing anything else. At least Jeff Daniels manages to make his atrocious exposition bearable purely based on his excellent way with words, but how do you account for wasting actors like Naomi Watts and Octavia Spencer in such nothing roles? At the very least, Jai Courtney isn't around to make everything worse, but that's a meaningless trade-off when that's the only advantage this movie has over the others.

Factor in inept direction by hired gun Robert Scwhentke, and you see exactly why Allegiant is such a terrible mess. If not because it's insulting, then because it might be the single most embarrassingly unenthusiastic YA movie since Ender's Game. There's no personality anywhere in this movie, with the entire cast feeling like they would rather be doing anything else, and the lack of anything resembling stakes makes the numerous action beats ring completely false. It's a film purely in one ear and out the other, and the only impact it leaves, if any, is an anticlimactic thud.

And this still isn't the end. Next year will see the series conclude proper with Ascendant, and if Allegiant is anything to go by, it looks geared to be a miserably pathetic send-off.

* / *****

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