“The Divergent Series: Allegiant part 1” movie review

AllegiantPossibly a strong finish for the Divergent Games! Of course, we won’t know just how well it finishes until the second part. Surprisingly, The Divergent Series: Allegiant part 1 provides fans with a good start to a well-executed conclusion. After the weak sequel, it was quite unexpected that the series would begin to complete this YA series on such a high note. Unlike the disappointing conclusion of The Hunger GamesAllegiant brings back your favorite characters you love and love to hate in a very satisfying ending in the dystopian adventure to rescue a people from themselves. At the end of the day, the Divergent series will never be as successful or generate the same fandom as The Hunger Games; but simply comparing the last two films in both franchises, this is clearly the superior finish (or should be). Although Roth’s socio-political themes and subtext were fairly clear, all be it still weak, in the first two films, the message is a little vague and incoherent in Allegiant. Two YA franchises down and one to go. We will just have to see what lies in store for the Maze Runner series. Just like the Divergent series has a week middle, hopefully the weak sequel in The Maze Runner will pave the way for a strong conclusion as well. One thing is for sure, Allegiant contains far more action than the previous films which almost makes the weak and still completely explained plot worth the approximate 2-hour run time.

The first part of the final chapter in the Divergent Series takes us beyond the wall into a desolate wasteland. Follow Beatrice/Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James), Caleb (Ansel Elgort), Peter (Miles Teller), and Christina (Zoe Kravitz) as they embark on a journey to seek help from the outside in order to stop the civil war in dystopian Chicago (or modern day Detroit). With newly asserted leader of the faction less system Evelyn (Naomi Watts) and Amity turned Allegiant leader Johanna (Octavia Spencer) at odds with one another, war is brewing in the streets and all hell is about to break loose. Barely escaping Evelyn’s security team, Tris and her band are rescued by a team from an organization of pure bloods who oversees the “Chicago Experiment.” This group of researchers and scientists led by David (Jeff Daniels) recruits Tris and her team to develop a plan to save Chicago, or so they think. When Four discovers what is really going on, he must convince Tris and the rest of her band of rebels to make right what is going incredibly wrong.

For me, and I am sure other critics, analyzing this particular series, The Hunger Games, and Maze Runner gets boring. Because, for the most part, they all have the same plot, same fallacies, and similar subtext. They are all extremely socio-political methods to spread the message that only teenagers are special and are capable of saving the world from corrupt adults. Although these movies are aimed at Generation Z (anyone born after 1995), they still attract attention from Y/Millennials (~1982-1994) and Generation Xers (~1965-1981). That is important because Generation Z does not have the spending power that generations X and Y do. In order to maximize the income potential of the films, the studios have to appeal to Generation Zers in such a way that it will also bring their Millennial friends and potentially Generation X parents. Since schools are constantly preaching the message that teenagers are the future, they are special, and uncontaminated by the greed of the world, it makes sense to create films based on books that carry that theme. The negative side effect to this approach is creating a generation(s) that automatically distrust adults and their respective decisions regarding the environment, politics, and society. Just as Allegiant depicts what happens when there is such great division among a people who view the approach to peace so very differently will devolve into a war-like state, it’s entirely possible that reinforcing this division between Generation Z and X/Y could symbolically arrive at the same precipice.

The production value and design in Allegiant definitely outshines the prior two installments. That is important due to the fact that Roth’s political subtext definitely becomes a little muddled in this last chapter. Although there is definitely way too much cheesy CGI, it is far less than the previous film. And other than some of the outlandish technology used in the story, for the most part, the defense, security, and surveillance technology used by the various characters makes sense and is perfectly believable in their universe. There is even a real reference to 21st century earth’s scientists experimenting with the human genome. That helps to create a sense of futuristic realism in the Divergent universe. One of the biggest problems I have with the plot is the still unexplained history of how exactly the Chicago experiment began. Perhaps the director and writers did not feel it was necessary to provide a clear history through character exposition, but I am still a little confused as to how the Pure Bloods and Damaged became so incredibly separate. Another thing, if there are thousands (if not millions) of Pure Bloods in existence, then why use the Chicago Experiment as a method to see if a Pure Blood can be born out of all of it??? I guess that is why it’s not worth overly analyzing films such as this one.

For what it’s worth, Allegiant is an exciting start to the last chapter in the Divergent Series! Far more entertaining than the last one. If you were disappointed by Mockingjay Part 2 than rest assured that you will definitely enjoy the conclusion of this franchise. Not a bad way to spend your Spring Break or an afternoon over the weekend. But, I wouldn’t bother seeing this film in IMAX or 3D. However, I can see some benefit to the experience of this film by watching it in a D-Box auditorium.

Insurgent

InsurgentFaction before blood, or in this case, genre before story. In a series/franchise that struggles to separate itself from other YA (Young Adult) novel-turned-movies, Insurgent fails to live up to the expectation and hype that it generated. To her credit, Shailene Woodley (Tris) gives it her very best; but, her constant struggle to support the dystopian narrative is quite evident. The quality of the movie should come of no surprise due to the teaser trailer’s sub-par, CGI-driven, look. For the lovers of digital effects, this movie is in no short supply. However, it is this type of over-the-top and, at times, gaudy special effects that creates a flashy movie nearly devoid of a substantial plot. In trilogies and franchises, it is vitally important that the middle film(s) advances the plot and highlights crises, chaos, confusion, and emotion instead of just being filler to bridge the gap between the beginning and the end. Clearly, this installment in the Divergent series serves as further evidence that sequels often suffer and rarely live up to the audience expectations setup by the previous movie.

This installment of the Divergent series entitled Insurgent takes us back to the walled city of former Chicago. After the massacre of Abnegation, Erudite leader Jeanine Matthew (Kate Winslet) asserts that the Dauntless faction is responsible for the deaths of nearly all Abnegation. Furthermore, she connects the Divergents to Dauntless and issues orders that they are to be seized or killed because of the threat they impose on life in the “peaceful” city. Tris (Woodley) and Four (Theo James) desperately search for allies in the looming war that appears to be manifesting with every passing day. Both Jeanine and Tris endeavor to uncover the answer as to what was so important that Tris’ parents sacrificed themselves. Many secrets will be revealed to friend and foe as the quest for answers to the past ultimately point to the future of the factioned and factionless. In this quest for freedom and power, new power-hungry peoples will rise and seemingly unsurmountable challenges will face our heroes as the people of ruined Chicago attempt to bring about peace to the city and eliminate any and all threats to the way of life that has been such a part of its citizens for many decades.

I don’t typically look to the YA genre for impeccable acting and narratives rich with subtext and substance; but I do look for high concept, well-crafted movies that keep my attention for a couple of hours. Just because a movie fits into the YA-Dystopian genre, doesn’t mean that it has to follow every trope and hesitate to introduce new concepts. Unfortunately, Insurgent just seems to be like most other movies in this genre and runs the risk of boring the audience. Keeping the audience’s attention is crucial, especially when many members of the audience already know what’s going to happen due to having read the books. Even though I believe that a movie based on a work of literature (or a play) needs to keep true to the source material, it is also equally important for the writer and/or director to add something new–something unexpected–to keep anticipation high and build suspense as the story unfolds.

Just like a singular cinematic narrative must, under most circumstances, follow the classic three-act structure, the same is also true for a trilogy. Paralleling the respective three-act structure in each individual film in a trilogy, the trilogy itself is encumbered to follow in suit. If you are unfamiliar, the three act structure consists of: The Setup, The Confrontation, followed by The Resolution (or realization). Within each of the acts are various plot points; and between the first & second and second & third acts, there are two crucially important, and major, plot twists to transition and advance the plot. In an ideal and well-produced trilogy, the first movie should be the “setup,” the second installment should serve as the majority of the “confrontation,” and the third movie should highlight the “resolution.” What we have with Insurgent is a movie that pretty much doesn’t advance the plot nearly as much as it should have. This leads to the poor pacing and mostly hollow narrative. There is some meat there, but not nearly enough to fill two hours. In other words, it feels as if the movie mostly just treads water instead of heading for the finish line.

Insurgent definitely contains some entertainment value; but, I cannot say that it was an entertaining as the previous installment. I have not read the books, but if this movie keeps true to the novel, then the writers and director should have taken the creative liberty and adding in material that would have increased the visual storytelling quality of the film, without breaking from the very essence of the story. Hopefully, this filler movie has paved the way for a dramatic and exciting finish with the next movie Allegiant. Comparing it to other sequels, it fairs about the same; but, if you have some extra time this weekend, it could serve to keep you mildly entertained for a couple of hours.