Monday, March 21, 2016

More Like 'Indifferent': "Allegiant" only worthwhile for the devoted


Allegiant (2016)
121 min., rated PG-13.

By the third saga of a planned four-part film franchise, the “Divergent” series based on Veronica Roth’s YA trilogy is really hitting a wall — and not just the giant wall that keeps Chicago enclosed. If  “Insurgent” felt mostly like filler with a few standout set-pieces and welcomed experienced performers worthy of bringing even more substance (i.e. Naomi Watts and Octavia Spencer), then “Allegiant” almost feels like a remake, just on the other side of that wall. It may be watchable for the extremely devoted, no matter the dip in quality or the sameness in the storytelling, but it’s more of a mind-wandering slog that limps along to a nowhere-special conclusion rather than somewhere worthwhile. 

If you don’t know Abnegation from Amity or Candor from Erudite, then “Allegiant” isn’t going to help any. After shooting Erudite leader Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet) dead in the cliffhanging last shot of “Insurgent,” Factionless leader and Four’s mother Evelyn (Naomi Watts) keeps the gate closed and orders former leaders, who are alleged “traitors,” to be executed. On the run from Evelyn’s goons, Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James), along with Caleb (Ansel Elgort), Christina (Zoë Kravitz), Peter (Miles Teller) and Tori (Maggie Q), escape Chicago by scaling the fence to The Fringe, which is like a desolate alien planet that rains blood-red. The survivors are then rescued by The Bureau of Genetic Welfare and introduced to a new society run by the director named David (Jeff Daniels). He has been waiting to meet Tris, whom he deems as the only genetically pure one to save the city and the world, while everyone else is apparently “damaged.” Meanwhile, a war is looming between Evelyn and former Amity speaker Johanna (Octavia Spencer).

Director Robert Schwentke and a new round of screenwriters—Noah Oppenheim (2014’s “The Maze Runner”) and Adam Cooper & Bill Collage (2015’s “The Transporter Refueled”)—are treading water at this point. The sense of mystery and discovery is thinning out: What’s out there beyond fenced-in Chicago? With Jeanine gone and her faction system disassembled, is there any real danger left for Tris and her posse? These questions are answered, but the answers aren't very interesting when there’s more exposition to be learned. In terms of look and style, “Allegiant” is slightly more imaginative, if not always more convincing, than the previous installments. In the film’s one thrilling action sequence, Tris and her crew climb up the wall, escape to the other side and roam the red planet that might as well be Mars. There’s also a visually strange “decontamination” gel that Tris is showered with, while the visual effects of the bubbles that transport our heroes to The Bureau look sillier than they should.

Shailene Woodley continues to carry the series with gravitas and depth, and her heart still seems to be in the role of Tris, but this story only has her going through the motions and acting beneath her intelligence. While Tris initially trusts David and is separated from her comrades to work with the director, it’s really Four who has to do most of the work up until he, himself, has to be rescued. Theo James hasn’t yet lost his powers to be easy on the eyes and has a bit more to do this go-round. Miles Teller is still up to his sarcastic relief as Peter, who’s back to being a snake in a grass when it comes to his shifting allegiances, while Ansel Elgort and Zoë Kravitz are reliable but underserved as Tris’ brother Caleb and her badass friend Christina. As opposing leaders Evelyn and Johanna, Naomi Watts and Octavia Spencer still look engaged and bring as much credibility as their limited material allows. For all intents and purposes, Jeff Daniels is appointed Kate Winslet’s Jeanine role as David. It’s pretty obvious David won’t be able to be trusted, but he does what he can with a standard villain.

Where “Allegiant” leads is not completely foreseeable; it’s just discouragingly dull and anticlimactic. The climax, which involves heading back to Chicago, the help of multiple drones, and a mind-wiping red gas that keeps on coming, has spurts of excitement, but it’s overlong. There isn’t enough suspense and too much time for the wheels to spin rather than push the proceedings forward. If this is the penultimate installment, there’s little to no anticipation for the fourth and final one. When the entire film is just an allegory about equality, what is really left to sustain more story? By the time the summer of 2017 rolls around for “Ascendant,” who’s to say that these dystopian YA novel adaptations won’t already have gone the way of the dodo?

Grade:

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