Editor’s Notes: Allegiant opens in wide theatrical release today, March 18th.
We can blame the Harry Potter series, at least in part, for the pernicious trend of splitting the last book in a YA series into two, generally bloated halves, each one a cynical, unwarranted, unnecessary cash grab. Where Harry Potter went, other YA adaptations followed, from the Twilight Series to The Hunger Games and now, The Divergent series, Veronica Roth’s lottery-winning entry in the YA dystopian sweepstakes. With the third adaptation, The Divergent Series: Allegiant (hereinafter Allegiant), split into halves, the producers surreptitiously decided to avoid the swelling backlash and drop the “Part 1” and “Part 2” and simply go with Allegiant and Ascendant, respectively. To the producers’ infinitely modest credit, Allegiant actually feels like a complete story and not a Part 1. It feels so complete that Ascendant should be scuttled forthwith to let everyone behind and in front of the camera move on to more artistically rewarding endeavors.
To the producers’ infinitely modest credit, Allegiant actually feels like a complete story and not a Part 1.
Allegiant thankfully skips over recapping the previous entries in great detail, instead opting for a “moments later” continuation from Insurgent. Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley), the most special divergent of all (special because she’s the protagonist, divergent because she transcends the overt, literal factionalism of her future world dystopia, New Chicago), and Four (Theo James), her best friend forever/romantic partner, joined forces with the outcasts and pariahs of New Chicago, the Factionless, led by Four’s long-lost mother, Evelyn (a too-young-to-be-his mother Naomi Watts), and took down Jeanine (Oscar winner Kate Winslet), the leader of the Erudite faction, New Chicago’s compassion- and empathy-challenged brainiacs (an unwelcome anti-intellectualism runs through both the series and the big-screen adaptations) with extreme prejudice. While a new, faction-free social and political order seemed on the horizon, Tris and Four were last seen prepping for a trip beyond the fortified walls of New Chicago to the potentially dangerous, toxic world outside.
Except not so fast: Evelyn’s power play left her fully in charge of New Chicago. With years of pent-up bitterness and resentment at her mistreatment by New Chicago’s previous leaders, Evelyn orders show trials for Erudite and Dauntless (the city’s brave, bold, IQ-challenged enforcers) who aligned themselves with Jeanine and her ultimately unsuccessful power grab. With angry, eager mobs at her disposal, Evelyn begins to purge the new regime’s enemies with extreme prejudice. Four’s pleas for due process (or the equivalent thereof) or permission to leave New Chicago fall on deaf ears (Evelyn’s). With Tris’ Erudite brother, Caleb (Ansel Elgort), facing a show trial of his own for crimes against the other factions (a not unnatural consequence of siding with the losing side in a revolution), Tris and Four commandeer a military vehicle and along with a newly freed Caleb and an along for the ride Christina (Zoë Kravitz) and Peter (Miles Teller), they head out for the world beyond the city’s walls.
It doesn’t make much sense, but then again little in the Divergent series does. Roth’s world building left a lot to be desired. . .
With Evelyn’s paramilitary minions in close pursuit, Tris, Four, and the others venture into a Mad Max-inspired, toxic wasteland. Before they get too far, however, they encounter a force field of some kind hiding another mini-city/society, the Bureau of Genetic Welfare, led by the Director/David (Jeff Daniels), an exemplar of white male, corporate privilege. As an adult with power in a YA adaptation, he shouldn’t be trusted. Tris trusts him anyway. From his gleaming glass and metal tower, he presides over a bifurcated, stratified society, the so-called “Pure” and the “Damaged.” Roth wasn’t particularly subtle in dissecting the ills inherent in factionalism and tribalism and raising real-world parallels in her novels and returning director Robert Schwentke (R.I.P.D., RED, The Time Traveler’s Wife, Flightplan) isn’t either. As the series’ Chosen One, Tris predictably falls into the “Pure” group, a miracle of some kind given that everyone else in New Chicago, including Four, falls into the Damaged category. The Damaged, not to mention the apocalypse that followed, are the result of uncontrolled genetic testing.
It doesn’t make much sense, but then again little in the Divergent series does. Roth’s world building left a lot to be desired and not even a three-man adaptation crew, Noah Oppenheim, Adam Cooper, and Bill Collage, could improve Roth’s nonsensical world building. At the end of Insurgent, we learned that New Chicago was nothing more than a social, cultural, and political experiment created by offscreen puppeteers, revealed as David and his cohorts in Allegiant, not apparently to see whether a society mapped out along clearly defined lines and factions, factions that blurred somewhat during a Sorting Hat-inspired ceremony (you’re born into a faction, but after testing as a teen, you can also choose a different faction), or even to develop the faction-transcending divergent(s), but to see whether genetically undamaged individuals could arise from the experiment. Thinking through the logic (or logic thereof) of Roth’s dystopia is enough to cause a migraine.
On the plus side, Allegiant doesn’t suffer from the usual problems associated with split adaptations: At least superficially, it resolves the new conflict between New Chicago and the Bureau of Genetic Welfare, with New Chicago’s citizens, led as always, by Tris and Four. A new day, a new dawn of peaceful cooperation and accommodation between and among the factions and the Factionless seems all but imminent and with the changes, some of them major, between novel and adaptation, plus a few, modestly well-directed, crowd-pleasing set pieces, the series mercifully could (and should) end here. It won’t, of course, not when there’s money to be separated from the series rapidly diminishing fan base.
Allegiant doesn’t suffer from the usual problems associated with split adaptations. This installment is modestly well-directed with crowd-pleasing set pieces. The series mercifully could (and should) end here. It won’t, of course, not when there’s money to be separated from the series rapidly diminishing fan base.