Perhaps one shouldn’t be surprised by an overall lack of quality in a homogenized YA adaptation, but given the relative acceptability of its two predecessors, it’s shocking just how terrible Allegiant is. On every level, starting on the page and infecting the performances, direction, and even the would-be bread-and-butter CGI, the third entry in the “Divergent Series” is a stunning failure, made all the more so by the fact that the original Divergent and its sequel, Insurgent, were at least competently composed in this overpopulated realm of dystopian, nonsensical sci-fi, girlpower-suppressed-by-romance teen franchise bait.
Not so this time, in a wannabe-tentpole that continues a narrative we can barely remember, via broadly typed caricatures, in a saga-verse so lacking in physical, thematic, or cinematic identity that it plays like an empty hodge-podge of undercooked YA copy-catting. The series’ source template, set forth in Veronica Roth’s books and brought to the screen by an ever-shifting group of filmmakers being ushered in and out a revolving door, uneasily combines threads of love, social revolt, and wholly out-of-nowhere metaphysical superheroism. It’s been something of a “just-go-with-it” dirge from the first frame of Divergent, but officially jumps the shark in Allegiant, which spins the narrative into an incomprehensible layering of allegorical mayonnaise and displaces any of the earlier film’s redeeming (minor) charms with outsized aww-shucks Disneyfication.
A tertiary plot synopsis may help contextualize this nonsense. The first film placed us in post-apocalyptic Chicago, with the surviving inhabitants enclosed inside a Trump wall and divided into factions based on personality, talent… whatever. “Divergents,” like heroine Tris (Shailene Woodley), fuse elements of all the factions, and that kind of unique individuality is dangerous in this carefully-controlled world of subjugated classes. Tris embraced her uniqueness in Divergent, then fought against the suppression of the “Erudite” faction out to destroy her throughout Insurgent, and now… well, I’m not sure why this one is called Allegiant, other than it conveniently fits into the rhyme-time title scheme.
Basically, Tris and fellow Divergent boy-toy Four (Theo James) travel outside the forbidden wall and discover… lots of stuff, incessantly, in a needless thematic traffic jam of class warfare, gentrification, revolt versus subservience, and peace versus complacency. All well and good, except when delivered in a cascading stream of exposition vomit from a uniformly respected cast – consisting of Jeff Daniels, Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer, and Miles Teller – whose collective talent is sapped as they wrestle with the dialogue. Clearly, the Allegiant team is trying to avoid the uneasy water-treading of the “Finale: Part 1” phase that claimed victims in the Harry Potter and Hunger Games franchises (this part 2, dubbed Ascendant, bows next year). But front-loading this story with one new “earth-shattering” revelation after another, many of which render meaningless all that’s come before (both in prior films and in this one), does nothing but further obfuscate an already-incomprehensible universe of pretense and pixels.
Oh yes, there are plenty of pixels, since every Divergent film is apparently required to morph into the YA Matrix, replete with wall-scaling, virtual reality spying, and which-world-is-this trickery. Aside from there being no intrinsic narrative or thematic motivation for any of it, perhaps the goofy sci-fi baloney could function in a guilty pleasure sense if only it looked moderately impressive and not like a mildly updated reimagining of Sid and Marty Krofft’s Land of the Lost. Such is the result of Allegiant – it puts itself through so many ringers that it regresses into aimless kitsch, yet still expects us to take it seriously.