Even though it’s virtually impossible to find anyone who will admit to liking it, the Divergent series is back for a third round of shamelessly ripping off The Hunger Games. It’s amazing that the franchise somehow got this far, but don’t expect it to suddenly get any better (certainly not with director Robert R.I.P.D. Schwentke in charge). The movie is louder and more expensive than the last one though, so I suppose that might count for something or mean something to someone somewhere. In keeping with the tradition of shamelessly borrowing from The Hunger Games playbook, The Divergent Series: Allegiant Part 1 (that title just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?) is now a revolutionary tale with teens in leather jump suits fighting to prove that adults are like so totally wrong about stuff. And as you may have guessed from the ‘Part 1’ portion of that title, it’s also an adaptation of only half of the final book. Those expecting any sort of closure, or even satisfying story structure need not apply. This is only half of a movie and not even a particularly good half of a movie either.
When we last left the Divergent world, the faction system was finally abolished and a wall opened up offering escape to a new world. Unfortunately, the new movie kicks off with Naomi Watts dark n’ brooding revolutionary closes the wall to keep everyone in Chicago. Why? It’s unclear beyond the fact that she wants to start a war with Octavia Spencer’s gang for some reason (probably to give the movie a few extra action sequences). Thankfully, there are a plucky band of heroes led by Shailene Woodley’s perfect, “chosen-one”, YA dystopian hero, and her generic, rippling-abed boyfriend, Theo James (the two major requirements of any entry in this genre) to set things right. They soon discover a special city outside of Chicago run by Jeff Daniels. It turns out that the whole faction thing was actually a giant test run by Daniels. You see earth was long since past that faction nonsense and the rest of humanity on the planet are all genetically perfect. He created that discrimination war zone to see if another genetically perfect being could be born naturally and it happened with Woodley! So I guess that means that she and Daniels will become best buds and save the world, right? Not so fast! He’s an adult and she’s the leather clad heroine of a YA dystopia series. These are mortal enemies, you fools!
So yeah. It’s more of the same. This is still a big ol’ parable about the dangers of prejudice. The only reason for the new city and the conspiracy and the world expansion is because the Divergent series ran out of steam with their old prejudice metaphors in chapter two, so a jump start was required to keep this series kicking. That means the movie starts with a burst of action then slows down to a crawl so that Jeff Daniels can explain in a slow and measured pace why there need to be two additional movies and then the action kicks up again slightly before the credits. Yep, it’s just as tedious to get through as you’d imagine. In fact, the movie virtually starts and ends on the exact same image as if to emphasis the fact that in two hours the story essentially hasn’t advanced at all. As is the Robert R.I.P.D. Schwentke way, everything looks sleek and expensive without any specific personality. Cameras fly around without purpose and stuff blows up without momentum. Even the new superior super city that should provide a new visual element to the series adds a whole lot of nothing. It all looks like an Apple commercial circa 2002 and doesn’t even really contrast with the down n’ dirty world of Divergent’s Chicago given that the population of people living in that wasteland were already clean, well dressed, gym-toned and impossibly pretty. There’s really no way to tell anyone apart. Perhaps that’s some sort of visual statement of unity in humanity, but most likely that’s giving the filmmakers too much credit and it’s just one of the many big dumb mistakes that define this big, dumb, and painfully redundant franchise.
In a perfect world, the failure of The Divergent Series: Allegiant Part 1 would be enough to kill off this franchise. Sadly, we don’t live in a perfect world. So it will make its money back based off the brand name and the second half of the final chapter will arrive soon enough. That’ll probably stink too, but at least when it’s over The Maze Runner will be the only one of these franchises left kicking and the YA dystopia trend might finally come to an end. However, if anyone in Hollywood is still looking for a new one of these franchises, I’ve got a pitch for them. Imagine a world overcome by YA dystopia franchises. Society has collapsed because everyone is reading these books and watching these movies and can’t be bothered to do anything else. Into this world wonders a brave young girl with a hunky boyfriend who has an idea for a new type of storytelling. Obviously the adults think that’s ridiculous at first, but soon she amasses an army of youngsters excited by the possibility of a new genre of stories to be told and the tyranny of YA dystopia storytelling might finally come to an end! I think it could be a hit or at the very least, it’s likely a good allegory for an upcoming cultural change with all of the subtlety and nuance that this tired genre is known for.