I went into Allegiant,the third and penultimate film in the Divergentfranchise, fully expecting to be bored by it. I’d lost interest in the book series following its first installment, enjoyed the second film far less than I did the first, and expected a shapelessness that often accompanies franchise adaptations that break the final book into into two separate films.
But boredom was not what I found with Allegiant.Are the plot mechanics half-baked? Yes. Are the character arcs underdeveloped? You bet! But, against all odds, Allegiant kept me engaged throughout its two hour runtime. Whether it’s the Millennial in me, my deep affection for science fiction tropes and themes, or the part of me that still tears up at seeing a woman headlining her own action adventure blockbuster franchise, Allegiantwas most decidedly my jam.
What’s fun about Allegiant?This movie has a relentless pace fueled not by the lackluster mind-adventures of the first two films (thankfully, only one extended sequence here takes place inside of Tris’ mind), but by one science fiction trope after another. Once Tris and co. go over the wall and leave Chicago behind, they find the world of the future. It is run by a creeper bureacrat/one-percenter played by Jeff Daniels (officially, his title is leader of the Bureau of Genetic Welfare), and, like our main characters, we are curious to explore its technologicals innovations, social structure, and inevitable secrets.
If the art of a blockbuster is to continually raise plot questions, immediately answer them, then repeat before the viewer has too much time to ponder those usually only superficially logical answers, then Allegianthas the formula down. The viewer is pulled from radioactive Martian-red landscapes to bubbles-as-transport-devices to minimalist, unsettling future-showers faster than the average moviegoer could probably rattle off the names of the five factions. (The limitations of the faction system are now only a vague memory of a plot device. We’ve moved onto bigger and better things…)
Allegiant‘s interest in science fiction tropes doesn’t stop at the setting and prop; it extends to theme. Perhaps because it was written by an actual Millennial, the Divergent series has always been adept at tapping into Generation Y’s anxieties (though not so good at exploring them in any thorough way). This has never been more true than in Allegiant, which ambitiously takes on everything from climate change to surveillance culture, to reality TV as thematic touchstones (emphasis on the ephemeral touch). There are even mini-drones that get more screen time than actors who have won Academy Awards.
In watching Allegiant,I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of TV show this adaptation could have made. There were a lot of important ideas and potential character moments here that were mostly eschewed in favor of churning through more plot. The story even edges up towards colonialist critique a few times before scampering away in fear. The film also skates over some pretty intense questions about eugenics without really engaging in them. This, more than any other superficial exploration of theme, felt like a misstep. You can’t just bandy around culturally loaded words like “pure” and not articulate what you’re trying to say. In the age of Donald Drumpf, we need more.
Despite the lack of depth, it was still cathartic to see many of these topical themes explored at all. Many of the questions raised in Allegiant are still largely underrepresented in mainstream genre TV, which is currently overrun by superhero fare that for the most part avoids the very socio-economic issues informing the crime its protagonists are trying to prevent. (I miss you, Arrowseason 1.)
Allegiantis hugely aided in its adventure mission by an all-star cast, a veritable who’s who of Hollywood and some blink-and-you’ll-miss-them up-and-comers (hey, Wally West and Future Green Arrow). However, here is a list of actors who are criminally underused in this movie: Octavia Spencer, Maggie Q, and Mekhi Phifer. Naomi Watts is Evelyn 2.0, and gets even less fleshing out than Kate Winslet’s doomed character, despite her most valient efforts.
No, Allegiantdoesn’t have much time for the over-25s. This is a story about The Youngs and, like the more veteran cast, the talented actors do a lot to keep this movie going. Miles Teller steals the show as the requisite in-it-for-himself wiseguy Peter while Ansel Elgort becomes surprisingly endearing as the bumbling Erudite Caleb, who is now trying to make up for his misguided missteps. I would have liked to see more screen time for Zoe Kravitz’s Christina — especially with Tris — but there is one great moment between the two BFFs stalking down a hall together, guns drawn.
Shailene Woodley seems more bored here than she was in the first Divergent,but maybe she’s still recovering from Insurgent,or maybe it’s because the script asks so little of her. Theo James gets to do more, and Four is the real hero/protagonist this time around. In general, Tris’ plot arc is underserved, underdeveloped, and inferior to Four’s in almost every way, which is kind of a bummer for a franchise touted as a female-centric one.
The problems of a more reactive protagonist was also the chief issue with Mockingjay: Part 1, another film adapted from the first half of a book. Because we are only seeing one-half of a larger story arc, Tris’ plot arc is disappointingly passive for a central protagonist.
Because the film has so little interest in fleshing out character motivation past what we have seen from these characters in the previous films, Tris’ actions seem out of character. (The second third of this film was crying out for a montage.) This also means that, much of the tensions her choices create come off as convoluted drama. She gets more to do in the final third of the film, which is hopefully an indication of a better arc for her in the final film.
Much like (or perhaps partially because of) Tris’ underarticulated character arc, Tris and Four’s continuing love story leaves much to be desired. Their relationship feels perfunctory rather than passionate — like the football captain and head cheerleader going steady because they have been dating since sophomore year and they’re both hot. To be fair, it can be especially hard to sell these sorts of love stories in blockbuster franchises about survival and defined by the urgency of a breakneck pace (see also: The Hunger Games).
Despite all of these criticisms, I genuinely enjoyed Allegiant. Sure, I laughed out loud at some of the ridiculous plot developments, predicted the deaths of many of the over-25s, and couldn’t stop thinking about the incestuous nature of the Woodley/Elgort/Teller casting triangle, but there is a lot to like about the third installment of the Divergentseries.
If you weren’t a fan of the Young Adult, action-adventure vibe of Divergent,you’re probably not going to like Allegiant.But, if, like me, you had a lot of fun watching Divergent,but lost interest halfway through Insurgent,then Allegiant‘sdysoptian blockbuster shenaniganswill probably bring you joy.