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Caste off The Divergent Series: Allegiant Part 1'

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Latest installment of YA adaptation a dull, derivative mess

As we all know by now, young adult fiction can serve as the source material for some big money film franchises. One of the now-standard quirks of these series is the division of the final book into two separate films all the better to create an additional opportunity to cash in.

The 'Hunger Games' might have finally come to a merciful conclusion, but hey if you're looking for a less interesting knock-off version featuring a thinner plot and weaker performances, perhaps I can interest you in the 'Divergent' series.

The latest in the series is 'Allegiant,' based on part of the third book in Veronica Roth's trilogyand it definitely feels like it. Even in a genre that consists almost entirely of increasingly diminishing returns, the drop-off in these films has proved shockingly steep.

We're still hanging out with the franchise's resident Very Special Girl. Tris Pryor (Shailene Woodley, 'Insurgent') and her brooding small-s special boyfriend Four (Theo James, 'The Benefactor') are wandering around dystopian Chicago. There's a power vacuum left by the events of the last film; the two contenders to fill it are revolutionary leader Evelyn (Naomi Watts, 'About Ray') and former faction leader Johanna (Octavia Spencer, 'Zootopia').

As the people start to turn on one another, Tris and Four decide to go over the wall surrounding the city along with their usual cohort that includes Tris's brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort, 'Insurgent') and duplicitous d-bag Peter (Miles Teller, 'Fantastic Four') - in an effort to track down the people outside who are apparently really in charge of what goes on in Chicago. They wind up in the company of the scientists supposedly responsible for the experiment that led to the creation of their faction-based society.

The leader of that group is David (Jeff Daniels, 'The Martian'), the program's director who shocker! is fascinated by Tris and her 'purity.' Tris trusts him even though literally everybody who has ever been in a position of real power in her world has been corrupt and awful. Turns out there's a whole thing involving a separation between the pure and the 'damaged' and David has another shocker! - ulterior motives beneath his interest in Tris.

Does it sound like not a lot happens in this movie? I hope so, because not a lot happens in this movie.

'Allegiant' is perhaps the most egregious example yet of the downsides associated with splitting a final book into two films. Despite a runtime of well over two hours, the forward progress of the overarching narrative is negligible. The circumstances of Tris and her friends have changed not at all, and despite a bit of kerfuffle, things haven't really changed for anyone else either. It's the cinematic equivalent of treading water, spending 140 minutes accomplishing not much of anything.

Some of that narrative stasis could be forgiven with some strong action set-pieces or interesting production design or quality performances orwell, you get the picture. Unfortunately, there's none of that to be found.

Woodley is somehow making this character less interesting with every installment. Half the time, she seems to be trying (and failing) to be Jennifer Lawrence; the other half, it's like she's simply bored. It's a reminder that not just anyone can easily shoulder the load of a franchise. Her chemistry with James never a strong point has essentially evaporated. Their relationship is supposed to be a foundational part of the narrative, yet they are almost impossible to give any kind of crap about. He has basically become a dead-behind-the-eyes sentient set of abs, existing solely for Woodley to kiss/question/cry on/whatever.

The supporting cast should be better, but they aren't. I mean, come on Naomi Watts and Octavia Spencer are Oscar nominees, but they're basically just cardboard cutouts sniping at each other. Miles Teller makes it clear that he wishes he was somewhere else with every single frame of film in which he appears, while Ansel Elgort is just generally off-putting. And the subtext of every line from Jeff Daniels is just him counting the zeroes on his check.

Meanwhile, the action isn't very active a couple of ho-hum sequences featuring blah effects work. The general aesthetic feels as though it was assembled from bits and pieces of other works; there's nary a whiff of originality. Basically, this installment marks the moment when the film series somehow became MORE derivative than the novels were and that's saying something.

The 'Divergent' series has always labored in the shadow of 'The Hunger Games,' among others, but it seems that those in charge have simply given up on making any real effort to escape it. You can really see the seams of this stitched-together world in 'Allegiant.' There's nothing engaging or imaginative or original about any of itand there's another one coming. It's a copy of a copy of a copy, with all the quality that that entails.

[1 out of 5]

Last modified on Wednesday, 23 March 2016 14:38


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