Director: Robert Schwentke
Cast: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Ansel Elgort, Miles Teller and Zoë Kravitz
Running Time: 121 minutes
Release Date: March 11th
Allegiant is the third film in the Divergent saga, based on a series of novels by Veronica Roth. Following the discovery that her home city of Chicago has been the site of an experiment testing human nature, franchise heroine Tris (Woodley) and her friends embark on a journey past the city’s boundaries to discover what lies beyond. There she meets the mysterious David (Bridges), a wealthy representative of a council who is interested in Tris’ alleged ‘pure’ Divergent status.
Roth herself has defined ‘allegiant’ as ‘one who is loyal or faithful to a particular cause or person.’ On those grounds, this film itself is mistitled. Allegiant fails to fully commit to any of the causes or people it purports to explore.
Narratively, the film is completely unable to engage with even an oversimplified, SparkNotes version of some of its more complex ideas. As soon as themes like environmental damage, offensive/defensive war strategies, genetic modification and ethnic cleansing are introduced, each is disregarded simply to introduce another. So rather than any effectively landing, they all lazily point back towards the series central theme: the danger of binary classifications and the rhetoric of ‘us’ and ‘them’.
The first two films hammered home repeatedly that dividing people into factions like ‘Amity,’ ‘Dauntless’, ‘Erudite’, ‘Grumpy,’ ‘Dopey’, and ‘Sleepy’ is reductive. Yet despite Allegiant opening with the faction system abolished, the film seeks to fill this binary vacuum with the notion that even among the Divergent — those who could not be easily sorted into one group – some are ‘pure’ and some are ‘damaged.’ Once again, the ultimate moral is that this is a damaging construction that needs to be disregarded — and the actors look as bored with this idea as we are, some more than others. Miles Teller broadcasts an ennui that suggests this is not what he was thinking of in wanting to contribute to the body of great acting in the world – the cache? catalog? canon? Whatever, you know what he means.
Yet, Highball Teller aside, who can blame any of these actors for phoning it in when they have so little to work with? Characters are introduced or reintroduced, only to ultimately serve no narrative function. Similarly, despite the faction system being essentially abolished, because n theory, society needs more well-rounded individuals — there is absolutely no further character development. One of the ways in which television has pulled away from film in recent years is that the longform structure allows for characters to grow (or regress) as a result of well-paced narrative changes. But this opportunity is available to franchises, too; probably most usefully and visibly explored at the moment in the ideological shifts between the Avengers leading up to the Civil War. Yet, maybe due to the fact that they were born into the faction system and don’t know how to move beyond just one dimension, or just down to lazy reheated storytelling, all of these characters behave exactly the same as they ever did, when faced with exactly the same challenges as they ever have been — and maybe, three films in, and yet another one to go (!!) it’s time to acknowledge that something isn’t working. And maybe it never did.
The first Divergent film opens with the choosing ceremony, where young teenagers decide which faction they will join for the rest of their days, and it involves shedding blood onto a stone. With Allegiant, it really feels as though they’re trying to squeeze that blood back out.