Movie review: Divergent Series – Allegiant Part One
Shailene Woodley’s Tris discovers the world behind the wall in the Divergent Series, a post-apocalyptic saga that feels like high school on sci-fi steroids
Divergent Series: Allegiant, Part One
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer, Jeff Daniels, Zoe Kravitz, Ansel Elgort, Miles Teller, Maggie Q
Directed by: Robert Schwentke
Running time: 121 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13
By Katherine Monk
You don’t realize how close these movies come to the edge of nonsense until someone pushes it just a bit too far, hits the soft shoulder, and sends the whole vehicle cartwheeling over the edge, exploding into a fiery ball of twisted plot and special effects.
Up until now, we’ve been so well chauffeured on these post-apocalyptic high school trips that we didn’t really notice the chasm of inanity on the left and the cliff of “who cares?” on the right. We just got on the bus with our kick-ass heroine – be it Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) from The Hunger Games or Tris (Shailene Woodley) from the Divergent Series – and strapped ourselves in for the fantastic ride.
We didn’t really care where the bus stopped or who else got on. These bouts of dystopian fiction for young adults are all about character, and following a youthful, empathetic heroine through one fiery confrontation with authority after another.
In other words, it’s high school on sci-fi steroids—all the action revolves around the best-looking, most charismatic people in the population.
In the case of the Divergent Series, that would be Tris and Four (Theo James). Both classified as “divergent’ because they don’t fit into any of the other five factions – Amity, Dauntless, Candor, Erudite and Abnegation – Tris and Four have already succeeded at challenging the leadership of Chicago, what residents believe to be the last inhabitable city on Earth.
Tris and Four wanted to see the end of the faction system. They hoped to lead a revolution that would see every human being valued for who they are, instead of forced into compartments of approved behavior. And in the first two installments, they rallied the teen troops, forced the grown-up world to recognize its arrogance and managed to stay alive to see another day.
But they were still stuck in the skeletal remains of Chicago, inside a gigantic wall with an electrified fence – which is where the first part of the last book opens: Tris and Four are scaling a blown-out skyscraper to get a good look at what’s beyond the wall.
The city lies in ruin around them, but we can still make out the landmarks of modern day Chicago – from the now dry lake and riverbed to the Sears Tower. These images of destruction are a big part of the genre: they let us visualize what our future would look like if we made all the mistakes we’ve been warned about, regarding such things as greenhouse emissions, rising oceans, climate catastrophe, genetic modification and reproductive technologies.
Tris has grown up in a world where being different seemed to be a death sentence, but in this chapter, she discovers quite the opposite is true: Chicago is little more than a gigantic rat-maze, a genetic experiment run from the outside by David (Jeff Daniels).
David tells Tris she’s the only successful result, and suddenly, she feels special, valued, and incredibly important. She gets access to fancy lofts and is outfitted with a fancy white wardrobe, the teacher’s pet in Maria Sharapova’s wardrobe.
Of course, Four is upset. His big meaty lips start to pout. His strong brow line sinks. He thinks David is a big fat liar and that he’s taking advantage of Tris—like the college prof who pretends to respect his star pupil, when in fact, he’s just randy.
Despite the bright red puddles and acid rain, every emotional scenario in Allegiant: Part One is very real and recognizable because it’s fastened to the core issues in any rite of passage: overcoming the pressure to conform, and finding the courage to be who you really are.
The adults are all parent figures – wavering between protective and bossy, but always arrogantly assured they know what’s best. And just like kids who call their parents by their first names, there’s an awkward – almost forced – dynamic in the bid for mutual respect.
Naomi Watts plays Four’s mother, but everyone just calls her Evelyn – including Four. It all feels a little weird, but more than anything, it dilutes the drama.
Allegiant Part One is all over the place, flying in a hovercraft in no particular direction, without any emotional anchor besides our genuine affection for Tris.
She’s the only thing that gives this movie any semblance of linear order because she’s at the centre, but even at that, Woodley isn’t given a lot of space to stretch dramatically – nor is anyone else.
Naomi Watts, Jeff Daniels and Octavia Spencer are big talents, but as representatives of the adult world, their characters are flattened into sweet-faced fascists. The only thing that makes this movie remotely interesting – believe me, the action-filled plot is tiresome and draining – is watching Woodley’s character mature.
She looks like a total grown-up in this movie, and wearing a tailored white dress and heels, she could be the CEO of a cosmetics company at a lunch meeting. Tris is starting to change, but will her allegiance change, too?
Allegiant: Part One is so messy from a narrative point of view, with characters falling out the sides and plot points left to wither, that it not only fails to engage us in the immediate action, it fails to set up the next film with any focus. Then again, by the end of this dull and familiar excursion through the wasteland of teen angst, you may feel ready to graduate before sitting through the final exam.
Divergent Series: Allegiant Part One opens in theatres today.
THE EX-PRESS, March 17, 2016