Thursday, March 17, 2016

Review: "The Divergent Series: Allegiant"

"Twilight" did it. "Hobbit" did it. So did "The Hunger Games." Ditto "Harry Potter." So are you really surprised the "Divergent" series took the jaded path of splitting up the final book in the young adult series into two movies?

It's easy math: 1 novel ÷ 2 films = twice as many tickets.

I'll say this about the science fiction/fantasy franchise: at least they don't try to stretch it out too far. While "The Divergent Series: Allegiant" is the weakest of the three films, it's a fairly tight two hours without a lot of fat in it. There's enough story here to carry things along -- unlike some of those other series mentioned above.

It's still a rather goofy affair, with Chosen One savior Tris Trio (Shailene Woodley) finally breaking out of the prison of post-apocalyptic Chicago to embrace the brave new world beyond. What she finds is merely a continuation of the Darwinian experiment she left behind, with various power-hungry blocs trying to wipe each other out.

When last we left them, the five factions had overthrown the dictator-like leader played by Kate Winslet. It's a world divided into different groups by abilities and disposition. A few, like Tris, are "divergent," meaning they contain more than one faction's qualities.

Rather than being mutants needing a little genocide, it turns out they're actually the successful conclusion of a centuries-long scientific trial by a group calling itself the Bureau of Genetic Welfare. Led by smiling Director David (Jeff Bridges), they're rescuing kids living on the fringes of the wasteland. While most humans on war-torn Earth are genetically "damaged," David thinks he can fix them by studying the makeup of the pure Tris.

Mentor/snugglebunny Four (Theo James) is suspicious of the whole setup, and glowers handsomely at David monopolizing Tris' time. Meanwhile, Peter (Miles Teller), the devious dude who keeps betraying Tris & Co. only to be let back into the fold time and again, is brought along to do this thing. Teller, playing to the material, smirks and skulks admirably.

Also tagging along is Caleb, Tris' brother played by Ansel Elgort, who was her boyfriend in "The Fault in Our Stars," and ain't that creepy. A studious sort who briefly sided with the bad guys, he's given a job by the Bureau using their advanced technology so he can snoop on anybody, anywhere, doing anything. (Which is a strange gig to give to the new guy in town.)

Hovering around the edges are Naomi Watts as Evelyn, Four's (very) distant mother and leader of the new order back in Chicago. She's about to face off with Johanna (Octavia Spencer), who's spent decades leading the pacifist faction but is ready to pull out the big guns at the drop of a hat.

There are some cool new gizmos to play around with -- memory tablets so you can live another person's experiences, flying drone discs so warriors can see all around them, a gooey orange serum when you want to make somebody forget everything.

Director Robert Schwentke, who also helmed the last film, stages his action scenes crisply and is careful to keep the talkie scenes only as long as absolutely necessary. A foursome of screenwriters were brought in to adapt the book by Veronica Roth ... well, half the book, anyway.

The problem with "The Divergent Series: Allegiant" is that, unlike the first two movies, the stakes never seem that high. The story has become a repetitive switchback in which each new group presents itself as the saviors, only to make the same mistakes everyone else did. Sort of like certain YA book adaptations.

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