Last year, the “Hunger Games” series went out with a relative whimper when “Mockingjay – Part 2” made $50 million less than any other film in the franchise with “only” $281 million. It appeared that the “Movies Based on a Series of Young Adult Novels About Teenagers in a Dystopian Future” fad might be over. So what does this mean for a franchise like “Divergent,” considered by many to be “Hunger Games”-lite? If “Allegiant” is any indication, it means that the filmmakers are surprisingly at peace with the knowledge that people are losing interest in these movies. The film seems content to make a minimal effort since it knows people aren’t going to care much about it anyway.
When we last left this world, we learned that the enclosed city of Chicago was created to find Divergents, or people who didn’t fit into any of the factions that made up the city’s society. Tris (Shailene Woodley), who was such a Divergent, learned she was the key to saving humanity, which had all but completely destroyed itself outside the city. It seemed to be time to see what was outside the walls. But this film opens with police forces shooing people back from the walls. It turns out new city leader Evelyn (Naomi Watts) isn’t much better than the villainous leader she offed in the last film. Tris, however, knows she needs to go out and make a difference, so she rounds up her friends and they escape the city.
Outside, it does look like the rest of humanity has indeed destroyed itself. Pollution has turned the surface a murky red with some white cracks. I won’t lie, it made me hungry for bacon. The group is rescued by a team led by David (Jeff Daniels), who runs an oasis of sorts that functions as one of humanity’s last cities. David is very welcoming to Tris, and he does believe that she is the key to saving mankind, but her boyfriend Four (Theo James) thinks he’s up to something more nefarious. Four seems to be the only student of the YA game, because yes, the guy in the nice suit who oversees a heavily-armed complex with a ton of secrets is probably a bad guy.
The plot is standard for this kind of story. Characters struggle with the usual decisions about who to trust and when it’s appropriate to risk their lives by going against the system (it’s almost always the right thing). The annoying Peter (Miles Teller) fulfills his apparent obligation of switching sides at least once. Disappointingly, Tris falls instantly in love with the idea of David’s team being the key to saving humanity, which causes her to turn a blind eye to evidence to the contrary, and Four has to be the one to talk sense into her. Up to this point, the best thing about this series has been the character of Tris and how she’s both strong and smart (and equally all those other faction-defining traits), so having galvanized tough guy Four be smarter than her here throws off the character’s appeal and loses this movie a lot of its charm.
Not that this was going to be a terribly charming movie anyway. The people behind “Allegiant” just aren’t trying very hard. It’s bad enough that the characters and plot points are practically interchangeable with any number of YA movies, but on top of that the special effects are horrendous. This movie has some of the worst green-screening I’ve ever seen, and scenes where characters are enveloped by amber goo are just laughable (which, by the way, are the only laughs in this self-important movie). I did like the deliberately-yucky surface right outside the wall, so about the only thing this movie can do right is be ugly. The popularity of the “Divergent” franchise was clearly in decline before “Allegiant,” but this film sends its appeal into a nosedive.
“The Divergent Series: Allegiant” is rated PG-13 for intense violence and action, thematic elements, and some partial nudity. Its running time is 121 minutes.