Film review: Allegiant is overwhelmed by predictability

Allegiant stars Shailene Woodley (second from left) and Theo James (middle) as multi-faction heroes charged with leading an escape from dystopian Chicago. Photo: Summit Entertainment Allegiant stars Shailene Woodley (second from left) and Theo James (middle) as multi-faction heroes charged with leading an escape from dystopian Chicago. Photo: Summit Entertainment

As maligned and oversaturated in the market as they are, there’s a real value to the dystopian young adult sci-fi/fantasy tropes that target the tween demographic and are, ideally, familiar to adults who have not forgotten their own journey to emotional maturity. When the genre works, these novels and films can be useful primers on connecting the realities of the outside world—social strife, political divisions, injustice—with the new feelings that barge in uninvited during adolescence. Sure, it’s more than a tad groan-worthy when the impending collapse of post-apocalyptic civilization is treated with the same dramatic weight as which cute boy to choose, but that’s reality as young adults see it: a series of choices forced upon you before you’re ready.

When the genre fails, on the other hand, the flaws in the formula completely overshadow any qualities lurking in the background. This has been true of the entire Divergent series so far, but the latest entry, Allegiant, sets a new low in contrivances for audiences to endure. Right out of the gate, it completely undoes any residual tension from the surprisingly compelling cliffhanger of Insurgent, which is an unfortunately appropriate beginning for something that is less of a movie and more of an exercise in predictability and throwing special effects at holes in the narrative.

The previous films established the world of dystopian Chicago, whose inhabitants are divided by factions determined by genetic predisposition to certain personality traits; abnegation, erudite and other words you haven’t thought about since you took the SAT. Tris (Shailene Woodley) rises above it and people start fighting. That’s really all that needs to be said about the plot because that’s how much thought went into it. Everything in this world was created only to be surprising when it’s torn down, every plot thread is rammed down our throats so that it can be revealed to us as slightly different than the way it was originally explained. The unbreakable faction system exists to be broken. The impenetrable wall that surrounds Chicago exists to be penetrated. Insignificant minutiae are over-explained to give the appearance of a sophisticated world, but crucial plot points always have one conspicuously absent detail that gets resolved during glaringly obvious twists.

As unnecessarily confusing as Allegiant is, it is saved to a degree by impressively committed performances. Every actor gives his respective character far more depth than the source material does, particularly Woodley as Tris, who on paper is little more than the archetypal protagonist who is devoid of personality yet is seen by all the other characters as the most special and crucial person in the world. Miles Teller as Peter steals every scene he’s in, and even a bored-looking Jeff Daniels is sort of fun to watch as the mysterious (read: obviously the bad guy) David.

At the heart of The Hunger Games—when it wasn’t about boys and arrows—was the conflict between stability and doing what you know to be right. Divergent appears to be about the fear of being judged and categorized, which is certainly a palpable feeling for teens and adults, yet any insights it might offer are suffocated by the weight of its overall blandness. Action scenes shouldn’t be boring. Key characters getting shot in the back of the head shouldn’t be predictable. The dramatic reunion of two lovers after a bloody shootout shouldn’t be funny. And while we’re at it, the forthcoming conclusion of this series, Ascendant, shouldn’t be made.

Allegiant

PG-13, 121 minutes

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