Thursday, March 31, 2016

'The Divergent Series: Allegiant' review

Another year, another installment in the Divergent series. After a promising start in 2014 with the original chapter, director Robert Schwentke took over for Neil Burger and delivered a major disappointment. Insurgent was bland, poorly paced and just generally not a good movie, effectively slowing the series to a halt. Schwentke is back for the third chapter in the series, Allegiant, which further shows that there's literally nowhere left to go with this franchise. On a superficial level, it's better than Insurgent- the action is crisper, the score is pretty good, the look is impressive. But if Insurgent halted the franchise, Allegiant stagnates it. After three movies, this story has gone absolutely nowhere and by the end of this go-around, I was just utterly baffled. Delivering just over two hours of a story that feels completely and totally inconsequential to the overall arc of the Divergent franchise, Allegiant is another boring mess that can't muster up any excitement, intrigue or interest for most of its run time. Simply put, it doesn't give you a reason to care.

I'm gonna try my best to sum up exactly what this movie is about, so bear with me here, and if I'm wrong, please leave lots of angry comments. Okay, so it's set some time after that last one (not that I remember what happened), and things are going bad. Evelyn (Naomi Watts) is killing people and Johanna Reyes (Octavia Spencer) is about to engage in a civil war with her new government. Live executions are going on in the streets and tension between the now-dissolved society is at an all-time high after the death of Jeanine (Kate Winslet). But after hearing about the possibilities of a world beyond the wall that encircles Chicago, Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James), Peter (Miles Teller) and Caleb (Ansel Elgort) decide to break free and see what's truly out there.

After a daring escape, what they find is a fully-functioning society, led by David (Jeff Daniels). He informs the crew that Chicago was a big experiment and that there is a council searching for those who classify as genetically "pure." So far, there's only one who is completely pure- Tris. After a failed meeting with the council makes him upset, David enacts a new plan to do things with.......brainwash gas? Yeah, there's a lengthy segment of this movie devoted to a megalomaniac's plan to kill people with poison gas. And then it just kinda ends. I don't know, after a while, the movie really lost me and I stopped caring about whatever the filmmakers were trying to do.

Here's the frustrating thing about the Divergent franchise: there's a lot of talent here. Shailene Woodley is a great actress, who has given fantastic performances before in films like The Spectacular Now. Ansel Elgort was terrific in The Fault in Our Stars. The supporting cast of esteemed adult actors, led by Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer and Jeff Daniels, has all the credibility in the world. And do I even need to mention Miles Teller? The dude is one of the fastest rising stars in Hollywood. But the Divergent series is what happens when you take a bunch of extremely talented individuals and give them absolutely nothing to work with. There's no over-arching story to the Divergent franchise, and Allegiant stretches the issue further. At this point, I don't know what the hell is going on and I also don't know why anything is happening. It's a totally confounding movie.

Oddly enough, this time around the movie actually gets off to a fast and entertaining start. Even riding off the dull and sleep-inducing Insurgent, this installment finds itself with a significant amount of momentum at the start. Joseph Trapanese's thundering, thrilling score sets the stage with a brash energy, and that is carried over into the film itself. Lots of things happen in the opening minutes of Allegiant, and while some might find it overwhelming, I found it to be quite refreshing. It felt like there was a purpose, a trajectory that director Robert Schwentke was setting for the movie. The wall escape and the accompanying chase is undoubtedly the best setpiece that this franchise has seen so far, giving the movie a nice jumping pad to start on. As Allegiant began, I was actually compelled and maybe even mildly invested in the story. It was quite the shock for me.

And then the movie just sits there. For the other 90 minutes, not a single thing of interest or intrigue takes place. There's some talk about genetics, some mumbo jumbo about "pure" people, a lot of moping, an unsurprising twist and a dopey action conclusion that gives you no indication of where this franchise is headed. The plot jumps around, characters hop in and out of the story, and the action grows increasingly numbing as the film moves on. I sat with a blank expression on my face, watching as literally nothing happened on screen that hooked me into the story at all. After a promising start, this was just straight-up demoralizing.

For those who don't follow this whole YA adaptation game closely, Allegiant is the title of the final book in the Divergent trilogy, which was then split into two movies (Allegiant and next June's Ascendant). Usually, when a book is split into two movies, the first film in the set feels incomplete. It's supposed to be half a movie- that's why Mockingjay-Part 1 and Deathly Hallows- Part 1 were incredibly unsatisfying. And yet, both of those movies got by with promising bigger and better things to come in future installments. An odd thing happens with Allegiant. Somehow, it feels like a complete story. When it's over, it almost feels like the franchise is over. For some, this might sound like a net positive, especially after I complained about previous splits feeling incomplete. In reality, it's the farthest thing from a compliment that I can give this movie.

Allegiant doesn't feel like the first part in an epic conclusion because this franchise has lost its way completely and totally. It no longer has any idea what story it wants to tell or why they're telling it. There's nothing to promise for future installment because I don't think they even know what they're going to do with them. The best they can do now is throw some stuff up on the screen and hope that it sticks. And in Allegiant, they get lucky for the first 30 minutes. It's a good start. But after that, the internal logic of the movie is annihilated. Allegiant gets lost in its own universe, which is a universe that unfortunately doesn't include the audience. There are almost no words to describe how this film leaves you feeling at the end. It's a soul-sucking feeling, an emptiness that only the worst of Hollywood franchises can provide.

THE FINAL GRADE:  D+                                           (4.8/10)

Image Credits: Variety, Yahoo, Screen Rant, Joblo

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