I will confess that I prejudged this film long before it came to theaters. I had seen the previous two films in the Divergent series and had been ultimately underwhelmed and bored out of my skull, similarly to most other critics who had seen them. I had preconceptions about what shade of awful Allegiant would be, and assumed it would fall in the same vein of bad as other young adult books adapted into movies such The Maze Runner and Twilight films. I already knew it would adhere to the same young adult film cliches and trends of bland characters, as well as sloppy empowerment as so many others do.
I had even mapped out all of the points I would make and the exact phrases and metaphors I would use in my review days before I had even saw the film. I had practically written the entire review in my head by the time I had entered the cinema. As I was walking to my seat, I laughed at myself and my capacity for judging a book by its cover. I assured myself that, “for all I know the film could be great or at least good.” So I pushed all my preconceptions and judgements out of my mind and sat down to watch Allegiant with a clean slate. And now, after seeing the entire film prejudice-free I can assure you that Allegiant has exceeded my expectations in the worst possible way.
Allegiant is the latest film in the Divergent series, based upon the young adult novel series of the same name, and is directed by Robert Schwentke. It stars Shailene Woodley as Tris Prior who, after toppling the dystopian class regime and discovering that human life exists outside the wall that surrounds a completely isolated Chicago, now faces the rise of a new violent ruling faction. In search of surviving human civilization, Tris, her love interest Four (Theo James), her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and their sarcastic and shifty friend Peter (Miles Teller) escape Chicago and venture across the wasteland. They find a technologically advanced institution, run by David (Jeff Daniels) who created the Chicago settlement and who enlists Tris’s help in saving the future of humanity. But all is not as it seems, and Tris must decide whether to trust David and attempt to save the future of humanity, or to go home and save Chicago from tearing itself apart.
If someone is to understand the fundamental reason this film is a massive failure they must know the basics of the young adult (YA) adventure formula. The basis of the technique used in many YA movies is to present the target audience with a generic main character who goes on the sort of adventure that is appealing to the audience. The main character is left bland with a few simple but desirable personality traits so that the every member of the target audience can project themselves onto the main character, inhabit those desired traits, and vicariously embark on an adventure that panders to their juvenile fantasies.
Let’s look at this in the context of the Divergent series. The main character is Tris, a brave, intelligent, and pretty young woman, who learns that she is more special than everyone around her. She escapes her mundane life and goes on a dangerous, action-filled, adventure where she makes a lot of life-long friends, falls in love with an attractive hunk who sees her as an equal, and topples the tyrannical social order, thus saving humanity. You cannot tell me that you have, be you male or female, never had some fantasy like that, or that you don’t want the same personality traits as Tris. You can also never say that you haven’t seen this same basic framework in other YA novels like the Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and Twilight. This formula can be done well.
Take Harry Potter, for example. Sure, the series does adhere to many of those basic story points but it works because Harry Potter, although having one of the less interesting personalities in the series, still has a character. The person reading or watching the Harry Potter series can still experience high fantasy vicariously through Harry because of his less pronounced personality not getting in the way. But Harry still acts like a growing teen, joking around with friends, having likes and dislikes, and making important choices. Things like that are what make Harry a character while Tris feels more like a boring, empty husk for the viewer to slip into. If you were comfortable doing that for the last two films then you will have no quarrels with this one. However if you don’t share the fantasies this series thinks you want to live out, or if you crave real personalities instead of artificial pandering character traits, then you will not enjoy this film. I sure didn’t.
The YA formula seems to have poisoned every aspect of this film. Let’s go back to the Harry Potter example. People watch Harry Potter, not because of the Harry Potter character, but because of his adventures. They watch because the world and characters of Harry Potter are so engrossing and interesting. Allegiant seems to believe that adhering to the YA movie formula will make teens immediately love the film so they don’t need to put effort into characters, story, or the world of the movie. The film seems so content in its mediocrity that every aspect of the film is completely bare bones. They seem to think that character roles are substitutes for actual characters. The villain of the film is evil because he’s the villain and the main character is special because the movie says she is. That is how deep any of the characters are in the film.
We never see any reason for why people are in their roles. The audience is told that Tris is a Divergent and is therefore more special than everybody else but we never see it demonstrated by her actions. She seems just as brave, daring, and intelligent as everybody else. Anything important she does is not a virtue of her being a Divergent but rather of her having the role of hero in the story and therefore needing to save everyone. This trait applies to every person in the film leaving everyone feeling boring. This is not helped by the all around bland performances and absence of chemistry between characters. The only likable character in Allegiant is Miles Teller’s Peter. Not only because Teller was obviously the only person having any fun when making this film, but because his character took nothing seriously, made fun of everybody else, and by the end actively tried to kill all the main characters, all things I wanted to do. The story is also bare bones because nobody bothered to make it make any sense. Characters motivations come from nowhere and make no sense, lapses in logic and judgement make everybody look like an idiot, and it felt that the plot more stumbled around like a drunk than actually progressed.
I think there was some moral about not putting people into categories but the movie doesn’t explore it at all. According to Allegiant, categorizing people is bad because it’s bad, it doesn’t care to show why. The idiotic, convoluted, and sparse plot hash this film calls a story would have made the film really funny if it wasn’t so boring. It feels like this film is 90% air. Plot points more appear than actually occur leaving the impression that nothing happens. Sometime, during what felt like the fifth hour of the film, I slipped out of my chair onto the floor in a bored stupor.
On the floor I thought to myself that if the if the movie ended with a meteor unexpectedly crashing into earth, killing everyone in a fiery explosion, that would have made Allegiant infinitely more interesting and entertaining. Allegiant is everything I dreaded and more. It is dull, and wrote, with lifeless, facsimile characters, a badly sewn quilt of stupid serving as a plot, and it feels like a tsunami of boredom is hitting you when watching it. Despite it’s lack of aspiration to be any better than it is, I at least thought it would have the integrity not to split itself into two parts in order to bleed more money out of moviegoers (a commonplace film series strategy that needs to die). But to my dismay, Allegiant ends halfway through the events of the book it was based on, meaning that there will soon be another sequel, that will feel the same as all the rest in the series and will try to leech more money off of moviegoers. At least that explains why it feels like nothing happens in the movie, they were working with only half a plot. I cannot accurately convey to you how dirty and embarrassed I feel for having given the movie and the parasites that made it my money. The only legitimately ok thing about this film is, like all the others in the series, there are some creative and interesting images and settings in the film. I will give Divergent– I mean Insurgent–I mean Allegiant (I’m sorry, it’s almost like they all feel the same) a D-.
By Sam Finbury