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Movie Review: 'The Divergent Series: Allegiant'

The boring The Divergent Series: Allegiant does little to hedge our concerns about YA's future.

Review by Matt Cummings

WARNING: Spoilers ahead

Over the past few years, we've witnessed a stunning amount of excellent dystopian dramas. Ready to break new ground by returning us to the familiar social territory of Star Trek: The Original Series, humans have struggled in various universes as they seek both the reason for their loss and their place in what's left. Sadly, The Divergent Series: Allegiant still hasn't figured out its formula for success, staggering on and on with a mix of terrible CGI, poor performances, and a script that's decaying as fast as their dystopian Chicago.

As the faction-less masses of Chicago gather after the death of their overlord, Tris (Shailene Woodley) and her lover Four (Theo James) realize one leader's oppression has been replaced by another: Four's mother Evelyn (Naomi Watts). While the couple and many others have decided to flee the city, Evelyn won't allow it (for reasons never explained). Instead, she's on the hunt to purify Chicago of Jeanine's thugs by executing them in kangaroo trials. After a daring escape that sees Four rescue Tris's brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) from certain death, the team eventually meet The Bureau of Genetic Welfare, where they learn that Chicago has been a giant lab experiment under the city's watchful eye. Ready to start a new life, Four, Caleb, and Peter (the unnecessary Miles Teller) struggle to seek new identities, while Tris learns that her perfect genetic material can save her battered city. As the real work behind Bureau chief David's (Jeff Daniels) operations becomes clear, Team Tris must decide whether to save their city or forget the past and make due in the comfort of their new and advanced surroundings.

Allegiant does an excellent job of proving that the YA genre is on life support, a small fish in a diminishing pond that no one cares about. Sure, there's a lot in the film that could have been interesting - messages about genetic testing, the breakdown of authority that comes after a coup - but Allegiant couldn't care less about anything that interesting. It's squarely focused on Tris and Four and all the boobs who congregate around them and disappear into a background that punishes for substance and rewards for style. It's one of the most frustrating aspects of this experience, with James still a dull slab of man, Teller as a Vegas show act, and Elgort confined to a chair (literally) for most of the film.

Director Robert Schwentke is painting by the numbers here, never pushing his troupe to new levels and saddled with a numbing script by Noah Oppenheim and Adam Cooper. Not one character experiences significant growth, is ever placed in any real danger, or seems even interested in exploring the world beyond voyeur and performer. Tucked within here is a festering amount of nonsensical plots (escape, only to return among them) that does nothing to separate it from The Hunger Games or The Maze Runner. Overall, the running plot element here - that Tris' DNA holds the secret to repairing everyone else's 'broken' makeup - fails to explain why it's important to fix them in the first place. Daniels does nothing to help: is he a mad scientist ready to destroy the petri dish that is Chicago, or a douchey scientist hoping to get his funding renewed? The answer sadly is both. He is the worst-imagined 'baddie' of this franchise whose intentions against Team Tris is apparent from the get go.

The action in Allegiant is straight-up Agents of SHIELD, as everyone other than James seems to utilize a body double, leaping into their finished positions after all the baddies have been taken out. But at its heart, Allegiant is just a reshuffling of the dystopian Mad Max: Fury Road and Oblivion, the action in The Matrix and Dredd and the music of Tron: Legacy. In the right hands, that could have been an interesting mix; cobbled together with its passive message about genetic manipulation and better effects, we could have witnessed a disturbing fish-out-of-water scenario.

Instead, we're treated to more awful CGI, adding to a growing list of remarkably bad SFX in 2016, with many actors clearly standing on soundstages instead of being supported with realistic sets. It makes all the difference in the world, especially when you consider that several indoor pieces here look great. But after awhile, things get so cheap that you can't help but point out the way it soils scene after scene. This collection of cinematic malaise isn't going to convince any newcomers that YA still has something to say, because nothing we've seen from The Divergent Series tells us that it's ready for the big time. Composer Joseph Trapanese delivers the only remarkable thing here, with a pulsing soundtrack that tips its hat to Daft Punk's now classic score; for the most part it works, if nothing else to keep us marching to the bitter end.

Desiring to be big but taking only small steps along the way, The Divergent Series: Allegiant suffers from a cheap paint job, thin character development, and a sense that next year's Ascendant can't come soon enough so these terrific talents can move on to better things. It's truly awful.

The Divergent Series: Allegiant is rated Rated PG-13 for intense violence and action, thematic elements, and some partial nudity and has a runtime of 121 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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