More dystopia in ‘The Divergent Series: Allegiant’

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No matter how earnest movie franchises based on young adult (YA) novels are, the market is saturated. The bar is set higher each time in order to keep the attention of its audience. And, the trend is to split the third part finale into two, in order to more fully explore the conclusion, but mostly to shamelessly milk the public for a fast buck.

If there were any truth in advertising, “The Divergent Series: Allegiant” should be labeled Part I, as its predecessors have done. As it has not, you might think “Allegiant” is the conclusion. Spoiler alert: it’s just the first half of the third and final chapter. The second half (conclusion), to be released next year, will be called “Ascendant.” Got that?

Although it cannot compete on the level of its fellow blockbusters, “Allegiant” is a fairly acceptable popcorn diversion from the outside world. The production feels “big” and its characters are mostly likeable. There are also innovative sci-fi gadgets and concepts. As with other YA features, there are parallels to our current political environment.

Some questions about the universe of characters are answered, and issues from earlier features in the series are clarified. However, new mythology is introduced, which unnecessarily muddles the storyline, again. In case you’ve forgotten or still care, the people of this dystopian world had been divided into factions.

Each person is categorized and legally placed into one of these groups. The Dauntless are fearless warriors, Candors stand for truth, justice and the Divergent way. Amities live to promote world peace and Erudites are the well-educated scholars with all the “fancy book learnin’.” Those who have multiple traits are considered Divergent – a threat!

Our heroine, Tris (Shailene Woodley), has the traits of each faction. She alone is best positioned to lead a rebellion that can change their world. From the outset of the original, Woodley has been a “poor man’s” Katniss Everdeen from “Hunger Games.” Interestingly, her persona and charisma shrinks with each new installment. At this point, it’s becoming terribly evident Woodley is not capable of carrying this series.

Fortunately, Theo James as Four, her love interest, is up to the task. Unfortunately, the two have no romantic chemistry. The tender scenes feel artificial, are uncomfortable to watch and even annoying. Mercifully, there are action scenes where we can watch the two lead their small group into adventures that are mildly entertaining.

The group decides to escape Chicago and venture into the red-colored badlands outside the giant wall (maybe paid for by Mexico?). When it begins to rain, Peter (Miles Teller) gasps, “Great, now even the sky is bleeding.” Teller has several one-line zingers and might be the most fascinating (and flawed) character in this movie.

Rescued by fellow insurgents, their leader, David (Jeff Daniels) recognizes Tris as genetically pure. He co-ops her into his realm, but Four is suspicious. He leaves via the forbidding desert; no food, no water, no weapon, no problem. Their strife is against strong, boisterous leaders inciting violence against its citizens as a way of uniting them.

The movie’s tag line is “Break the boundaries of your world.” Yet, this series seems to follow the conventional YA dystopian formula by the book.

“Allegiant” is two hours and rated PG-13 for intense violence, action, thematic elements and partial nudity. Based on the blockbuster novel by Veronica Roth and a cast that includes Jeff Daniels, Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer, Ashley Judd, Daniel Dae Kim and Ray Stevenson, this should be a can’t-miss, must-see feature; not even close.

In fairness, the sci-fi special effects are fascinating, there’s no gratuitous violence and not much objectionable material. Even though it takes itself so seriously, it’s a kid-friendly popcorn flick. We have nothing against YA trilogies, but “trilogy” used to mean “three.” Let’s tell Hollywood enough is enough! What next? Should we expect two parts for the third Paul Blart Mall Cop movie?

Ron’s Rating: D+   Leigh’s Rating: C+

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Ron & Leigh Martel