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Dustin Putman

Allegiant  (2016)
2 Stars
Directed by Robert Schwentke.
Cast: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Naomi Watts, Jeff Daniels, Ansel Elgort, Miles Teller, Zoë Kravitz, Octavia Spencer, Keiynan Lonsdale, Daniel Dae Kim, Maggie Q, Bill Skarsgård, Jonny Weston, Nadia Hilker, Andy Bean, Ray Stevenson, Mekhi Phifer, Joseph David-Jones, Josh Duvendeck, Xander Berkeley, Parisa Johnston, Rebecca Pidgeon, Ashley Judd, Janet McTeer.
2016 – 121 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for violence, thematic elements and partial nudity).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman for, March 17, 2016.
Continuing the trend of prolonging a popular YA-novel-to-film franchise by needlessly splitting the final entry in half, "Allegiant" follows 2014's "Divergent" and 2015's "Insurgent" but is not, in fact, the concluding chapter of author Veronica Roth's trilogy. Instead of bringing the story and characters to a close, the film ends with little accomplished as an egregious 15-month wait begins for 2017's "Ascendant" (really just "Allegiant - Part 2"). This time, however, the financially greedy ploy could backfire for studio Summit Entertainment, who has not seen quite the feverish audience response or blockbuster returns of other series with two-part finales (think "Harry Potter," "Twilight" and "The Hunger Games"). Thus, as the "Divergent" saga's individual installments have seen their budgets rise to north of $100-million—and likely double that after P&A costs are figured in—the domestic earnings have dropped. "Allegiant" is bound to continue this downward slide. Yes, a movie's monetary gross has nothing at all to do with its quality, but Hollywood's insistence on stretching a single novel into two features oftentimes comes off as an anticlimactic, creatively pedestrian excuse to double profits.

At the end of "Insurgent," Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) discovered there was, indeed, life outside the enclosed walls of a post-apocalyptic Chicago where residents had long been separated into five factions—the selfless Abnegation, the peaceful Amity, the truthful Candor, the intellectual Erudite, and the courageous, death-defying Dauntless. As it turns out, this whole separatist existence was an experiment with aims to rebuild harmony in a world destroyed. Their hoped-for saviors? The rarified, strong-willed Divergents—those carrying all five groups' attributes—for which Tris and boyfriend Four (Theo James) are a part. With the factions and Kate Winslet's deadly, dictatorial Erudite leader Jeanine no more, Tris hopes they are finally on their way toward peace and truth. Hope quickly diminishes when Four's formerly factionless mother Evelyn (Naomi Watts) demands the Chicago borders be sealed and starts holding trials of execution for Jeanine's guilty followers. A plot is quickly put into action to breach the wall and find out if anything has survived on the other side, but the society that awaits them at David's (Jeff Daniels) deceptively well-meaning Bureau of Genetic Welfare may be even more dangerous than what Tris and Four have just escaped.

With little forward movement beyond what could have been drastically condensed into an opening act, "Allegiant" frustrates and threatens to tarnish the good will left by its two familiar but involving predecessors. Messages involving the dangers of repeating past mistakes and the struggle for equality between those viewed as "pure" and "genetically damaged" are timely metaphors for today's divided political climate. Unfortunately, returning director Robert Schwentke (2009's "The Time Traveler's Wife") and writers Noah Oppenheim (2014's "The Maze Runner") and Adam Cooper & Bill Collage (2014's "Exodus: Gods and Kings") are frequently too on the nose in their approach to these themes and ideas. Worse still, they are merely going around in circles with a story that offers no resolutions and backtracks on what was already covered in the previous pictures, only with new characters appointed as villains. Save for the discovery of the Bureau's nefarious intentions (which is about as shocking as the sight of the sun rising every morning), where "Allegiant" ends is strikingly similar to where "Insurgent" left off.

There is nothing necessarily wrong with Shailene Woodley's (2014's "The Fault in Our Stars") performance as Tris Prior, with one exception: the infectious enthusiasm and emotional depth she exuded in "Divergent" and "Insurgent" has dimmed as she finds herself going through the motions. Tris ultimately wises up, but makes some boneheaded decisions along the way; when Four warns her the Bureau is up to no good, she refutes his claims even as a virtual neon sign reading "DANGER!" flashes over David's smarmy head. Deep inside, Woodley appears to know her character is being dumbed down. As newly appointed voice of reason Four, Theo James (2012's "Underworld: Awakening") continues to catch one's eyes despite his romantic chemistry with Woodley having cooled; most of their too-few scenes together are afterthoughts.

Receiving little to do until the climax are Ansel Elgort (2014's "Men, Women and Children"), as Tris' repentant brother Caleb; Miles Teller (2015's "Fantastic Four"), as the self-serving Peter, and Zoë Kravitz (2015's "Mad Max: Fury Road"), as Tris' friend Christina. Jeff Daniels (2015's "Steve Jobs") hasn't many layers to work with as the Bureau's manipulative, wayward leader David, but gives the part a clear-cut intensity all the same. If Octavia Spencer (2013's "Paradise") is underused but grabs the viewer's attention every chance she gets as fed-up former Amity chief Johanna, Naomi Watts (2015's "While We're Young") proves the standout as Four's corrupted, visibly conflicted mother Evelyn. Evelyn's entire arc in this film is arguably unnecessary, but Watts is gripping as a woman whose love for her son may be the only thing to curb her hunger for power.

There is the sneaking suspicion as "Allegiant" crosses the finish line that the majority of the past two hours has been filler. The plot is noticeably more convoluted than before (Daniels' job is predominately to provide exposition), while the repetitiveness of its conflicts leads one to wish it would move along at a tighter clip. The film isn't without a handful of effective moments, from the heroes' urgent scaling of the wall and subsequent getaway to a race against time in the third act that finally puts Tris back in the figurative and literal driver's seat. Meanwhile, it is a neat thought to set the Bureau of Genetic Welfare among the remnants of the Chicago O'Hare International Airport, but once this fact is established nothing is done with it. There are still enough worthwhile elements to this series for concluding sequel "Ascendant" to hopefully set the narrative back on course. In its current form, "Allegiant" too often sags and meanders. It feels like it is unfinished and spinning its wheels precisely because it is.
© 2016 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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