Watching the Divergent movies is like watching a loveless marriage between ideas and execution that will never truly come together. Buried deep beneath the tedious YA tropes, author Veronica Roth stumbled across something interesting about how perceptions of reality can dictate societal control. However, the adaptations of her books have never seized upon this relatively interesting notion, and instead relied heavily on genre conventions, poor characterization, and lazy plotting to tell the same story three times: a young woman must save a society from an evil, calculating autocrat. It leads to movies that never add up to more than “Can’t we all just get along?” and Robert Schwentke’s The Divergent Series: Allegiant is only the latest in this trend. The only difference is it leans a little bit heavier on action, and does so at the expense of its heroine.
Following the events of Insurgent, the residents of Chicago have learned that their entire society was a lie and that there’s a world awaiting them beyond the walls. However, Evelyn (Naomi Watts) shuts down the city and starts holding kangaroo courts to execute those who collaborated with Jeanine. Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) aren’t down with this plan, so they make a run for the wall with Peter (Miles Teller), Christina (Zoe Kravitz), and Caleb (Ansel Elgort) in tow. On the other side, they discover the Bureau of Genetic Welfare. Tris is told by the bureau’s director, David (Jeff Daniels), that she’s the only genetically “pure” person of the entire experiment, but Four discovers that the bureau’s true motives may not be as pure as his girlfriend. Meanwhile, back in Chicago, Evelyn prepares to go to war with Johanna (Octavia Spencer), who no longer runs Amity but the “Allegiant.”
In another world, the Divergent Series could be a wealth of interesting sci-fi ideas. The movie opens with what looks like a refugee story as the residents of Chicago are now caught between a war and their own borders, but Schwentke and the screenplay never build on this or anything else. It flirts with societal issues like capital punishment and mob mentality, but never carries them further or does anything substantive with them. It’s all lip service to hard sci-fi while there was clearly more emphasis put on nifty production design like disc drones and surveillance spheres. Schwentke is clearly having a blast employing a bunch of futuristic tech, but he doesn’t have much interest in the future it shows us.
Instead, we’re treated to the same movie we’ve seen a couple times now. There’s a society that’s positioned as a utopia, but it’s built on lies. Authority figures are not to be trusted, and the big climax revolves around some mind-altering substance being released on an unwitting populace so that those in control can remain in control. Thankfully, Tris and Four are there to save the day by being brave and strong. We’re never challenged by these movies, and what already started out as a mediocre series suffers from diminishing returns.
We don’t get to know Tris and Four any better in Allegiant even though they’re presumably put at odds because Tris, for no reason, decides to trust David, and Four bands with the militant forces in the Bureau. It’s odd that we’re three movies into a four-part series and we somehow know less about our main characters, but Allegiant is content keeping them static. It also keeps the other relationships at a superficial level. Four and Evelyn are enemies, but they love each other because of their mother-son bond, and the film does nothing with that. Tris and Caleb only share blood, yet they can’t give up on family, but the film does nothing with that unless it’s convenient for the plot. Relationships are transactional in Allegiant rather than textured. Perhaps that’s why the only character who continues to work throughout these movies is Peter, the guy who’s in it for himself and doesn’t care about other people. Teller continues to relish playing the prick, and the movie gets some badly needed energy whenever he’s on screen.
I’ve seen all five Twilight movies, and when you’ve done that, you tell yourself you can make it through any franchise. But with the exception of New Moon, the Twilight films were occasionally interesting and could garner a reaction greater than boredom. The Divergent Series has always existed as an imitator and rather than grasp at its numerous occasions to make a mark, it has continued to fade further into the background. When it finally concludes next year with Ascendant, it will presumably dissolve into utter nothingness.