Monday, September 19, 2016

Allegiant (Red Wagon, Summit, Lionsgate, 2016)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2016 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Charles and I finally got to watch the Blu-Ray disc of Allegiant, third and last in the Divergent cycle of films (praise be that the production companies, Red Wagon, Summit and Lionsgate, filmed Allegiant as one movie and didn’t break it in two the way the makers of the Harry Potter, Twilight and Hunger Games cycles did!) and a quite good movie even though it ignored or changed much of what had been powerful about the book. The filmmakers — director Robert Schwentke (who also helmed the second film in the cycle, Insurgent), writers Noah Oppenheim, Adam Cooper and Bill Collage, and especially star Shailene Woodley, who gets introduced through some thrilling close-ups in which she projects a star charisma noticeably absent from her performances in the first two films — seem to have grown into their tasks and created what’s basically a fun action movie taking place against the backdrop of a dystopian future. Since it had been over a year since Charles and I read the books (though I have yet to read Four, Veronica Roth’s retelling of the story from the point of view of its male lead, “Four” — he’s called that because that’s the number of things he’s afraid of, and he’s played in the film by Josh Lucas, who doesn’t seem that great an actor but he’s hot-looking and portrays the stalwart dedication that’s the character’s only emotion aside from his love for Woodley’s character, Tris) and it had also been a while since we saw the previous movies, we weren’t picking out the details in which the film differed from Roth’s novel.

One really big point was that in the novel Allegiant, Tris dies at the end, going on what’s essentially a suicide mission to stop the Bureau of Genetic Welfare’s poison-gas attack on the city of Chicago (the Bureau has decided that the way to stop the civil war that’s erupted in the city is to give everyone a gas of forgetfulness that will make them lose all memories of who they are), while in the film she not only lives but gets to deliver a proclamation saying that the old order, in which people tried to build walls around each other and discriminate against each other, is over and it’s time for a new order in which everyone is equal — a message that is almost inevitably interpretable these days as a veiled (or maybe not-so-veiled) attack on Donald Trump. (When Tris complains that the Bureau built a wall around her city of Chicago, I couldn’t resist joking, “And they made us pay for it!”) The makers of the Divergent films — Neil Burger directed the first one and Schwentke the other two — are actually better filmmakers than the people who did the Hunger Games movies, though they’re handicapped by the fact that Veronica Roth simply isn’t as good a writer as Suzanne Collins and Divergent has nothing like the depth and richness of the political critique in the Hunger Games cycle. Nor is Tris anywhere near as interesting a character as Katniss Everdeen — reason enough why Woodley, though she’s developed into a fine actress (at least judging from the three Divergent films, which are all I’ve seen her in), hasn’t risen from young-adult cycle films to “A”-list roles the way Jennifer Lawrence has.

Allegiant is an enjoyable movie even though it does a worse job of wrapping up the cycle’s themes than its source novel did (and its source novel wasn’t any great shakes in that department: I remember I was reading Allegiant while Charles was reading its immediate predecessor in the series, Insurgent, and he was raising some of the dramatic holes he found in the plot and I was thinking, “Those questions will be answered in Allegiant, but not necessarily in ways you’re going to like”), and while it’s not always easy to keep track of all the blankly pretty young men in the cast and remember (or figure out) which side they’re on (and frankly the mohawk-haired killer who’s trying to slay Four as part of the Chicago civil war struck me as the sexiest guy in the movie even though I didn’t catch his name and I’m not sure his character had one), it’s two hours of fun action entertainment against an at least formerly fashionable dystopian backdrop — though the market for young-adult dystopian movies seems to have dried up, at least for the present. Allegiant was a box-office flop (according to, it cost $110 million to make and grossed only $66 million theatrically) and the next film in the cycle, Ascendant, won’t involve Shailene Woodley and will be released directly to television (apparently as the kickoff of a Divergent TV series) instead of to theatres. (This probably also explains why 20th Century-Fox seems to have brought the Maze Runner cycle to a skidding halt after the second film, The Scorch Trials, and isn’t planning to film the remaining three novels in James Dashner’s cycle.)