The Divergent Series: Allegiant - Review: Muddled But Improved

The Divergent Series: Allegiant - Review: Muddled But Improved
6 out of 10

After heading beyond the walls Tris (Shailene Woodley – The Descendants, The Fault in Our Stars), Four (Theo James – The Inbetweeners Movie) and their friends learn that Chicago was an experiment by a highly-advanced Genetic Research facility led by David (Jeff Daniels – The Newsroom, The Martian). When Chicago society looks on the brink of collapse, Tris must save the city wide experiment from being aborted.

At one point, Tris accuses various powerful people of making the same mistakes all over again. She has a fair point, and it’s something the film series could also learn. The film already boasted a jargon glossary double the size of its nearest rival but rather than just build on this establishment, it has to rename and reclassify everyone... again. Now people are Pure or Damaged, Factionless or Allegiant. The endless terminology really takes away from the enjoyment and means the film spends nearly half its run time just explaining itself. Then, there is ever constant alignment-switching among the characters and organisation. Factionless leader Evelyn (Naomi Watts – King Kong, Birdman) is now screwing things up worse than Kate Winslett’s Jeanine did, and the film gets very muddled and ineffective over trying to show her as both an antagonist and well meaning leader when required. Then of course, there is Jeff Daniels and his big fancy genetics organisation. From the moment they arrive on screen and proclaim, “It’s okay, you’re safe now”, we know they’re clearly not what they seem. That’s all well and good, but as the film progresses, things get very inconsistent with its structure. Various characters are happily going along with David’s operations one minute then saying much they hate him and jumping to betray him the next.

Many allegiances change so often and so quickly that their moment of turn carries no dramatic impact. Through much of the first half, the pacing often feels static only to start rushing when anything significant happens. The biggest loss is within the Chicago walls. We’re pledged a reluctant conflict between the divided population but see almost nothing of it. What’s more, the biggest point of investment is ultimately over the fate of the city and its people, but we spend so much of the film away from them that the climactic stakes become difficult to buy into. In short, the entire story is in dire need of some streamlining.

Despite continuing some franchise mistakes, Allegiant does well to remember the improvements that worked in Insurgent. Firstly, the action is good, and somehow only has a single training sequence this time around. Theo James becomes the best contributor. Whether he’s pulling back a punch or a trigger, the results are energetic and at times even thrilling. His mid-flight fight is a particular highlight. This also extends to some cool and innovative tech-based effects. The personal combat drones provide a good twist on standard fire fights (and a few flashbacks to Unreal Tournament’s Shield Gun) without being too overused. Similarly, the surveillance and memory imagining sequences are visually very impressive as the character subject becomes an immersed observer in a new environment. Even if the story is all over the place, there’s no denying that Allegiant looks good from its red planet nuclear wastelands to the glistening buildings of the Pure society. Like Insurgent, this follow-up remembers just how much of a funny guy Miles Teller (Whiplash, Fantastic 4) can be. Once again, his Peter is the best thing in the film. He provides frequent and much needed comic relief purely by being cynical and sarcastic about everything. He isn’t the only male cast member being well utilized either. Ansel Elgort’s (The Fault in Our Stars) brother Caleb felt quite lost among the swelling ranks of Insurgent but here, he gets a decent and rewarding redemption arc. We don’t just see Tris and Caleb hug it out in 30 seconds, rather that Caleb’s actions across the film earn her trust again. Caleb actually becomes the only character in the entire film that has a genuinely meaningful journey across it.

There’s one final point that must be stated in Allegiant’s favor and that is its position within the adapted franchise. Like many before it, the Divergent series has split its last book into 2 films: this being the first and Ascendant following next year. In Twilight, The Hunger Games and even Harry Potter, this equivalent film has produced arguably the worst entry in its series but that isn’t the case here. Okay, maybe the series wasn’t as good to begin with but it doesn’t dip in form, and in some ways, Allegiant is even its best film to date. It actually concludes with some degree of closure rather than the usual (and quite annoying) abrupt “to be continued” ending. While it’s clear there’s more to come, Allegiant itself feels a lot more self-contained than predicatable. If you didn’t know otherwise, you would believe it’s a single book adaptation rather than a half.

To date, Shailene Woodley has been an excellent lead but this time, she feels far too removed from a lot of the events and more bland than usual for having less emotional material to work with. Theo James by contrast fairs better than his usual walking abs routine and sells the distrust and uncertainty of David’s facility well. Miles Teller is worth the price of admission alone; Ansel Elgort is contributing on the team again while Naomi Watts and Octavia Spencer still feel totally wasted. Jeff Daniels develops into a suitable villain in the end but for most of the film, feels little more than his character in The Martian with any humor removed.... And rejoice! Because Jai Courtney stays dead.

If you’re not a convergent to Divergent already,  this film will not change that despite some good sci-fi action. Its ever dizzying lore makes it highly unapproachable to newbs. Those that enjoyed the prior films, particularly Insurgent, will be happy enough with the results. It’s a film with a lot that should be faulted but overall, it is an improvement on its prior films to extent of still holding some degree of curiosity towards next year’s concluding film.

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