“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.

“The 5th Wave” movie review

FifthWaveAnother cliche wave of ‘only attractive young people can save the world because they are special’ movies. Really??? Do we really need another one of these films with an overly used and tired plot? I suppose so–or at least that is what Sony Pictures is hoping for. Once again, the world is at the brink of destruction by an alien race that has taken over most adults. It is up to a small band of rebel young people to save the world by overcoming the impossible. Only this time, the dialog and plot are so incredibly blasé that you may likely find yourself often glancing at your watch to see when this painful movie will be over. Can we survive the fifth wave??? That question is all too apropos. From the unimpressive digital effects to the crazy quilt consisting of pieces and patches from every other  YA fantasy action thriller, hopefully this movie signifies the last wave of boring and predictable franchises that try to compete with The Hunger Games but fail miserably.

I normally summarize the plot here, but I am pretty well sure that you already know all that you need to know, given the repetition of such films in this sub-genre of young adult movies.

If you simply enjoy mild, mindless, cliche young adult (trying so hard to appeal to teens and adults) entertainment, then this film is for you. On the other hand, if you are tired of this same vapid plot that we have been accosted with for the last several years, then this is not the way to spend the weekend. Haha. I wanted to see The Boy instead last night; but unfortunately, it was not getting a Thursday night release. I think distribution companies and theatre chains should have released it instead last night, and saved this travesty for today.

“Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials” movie review

MazeRunner2Charged with middle child syndrome; verdict: guilty of being an aimless, but certainly not boring, sequel in a YA franchise. Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials is an exciting second chapter in the Maze Runner trilogy. Unfortunately, the non-stop action and thrilling nature of the movie is paired with a mediocre plot frocked with a lack of narrative direction, character development, and exposition. No doubt, the movie is far more entertaining than the first one; however, it just plays off as a filler movie with little to offer up in the way of supporting and moving the story along. Although we finally get a closer look into WCKD and what their goals are, there is still no explanation as to why a maze or how some are immune to the scorch virus and others are not. I suppose we have to wait for the third movie to find that out. In terms of sequel quality, this falls somewhere between Insurgent and Catching Fire. I feel the biggest problem with similar movies is that it perpetuates the idea that teenagers are extra special and adults don’t/refuse to understand them (although, these guys are clearly in their 20s).

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials takes place right after The Maze Runner as our group of guys and girl are rescued from the maze. Dylan O’Brien reprises his role as Thomas, the courageous leader, and attempts to adjust to his new surroundings. Thinking that WCKD is behind them Thomas meets Aris (Jacob Lofland) and discovers that all is not as it seems in their new home. After witnessing teenagers leaving and not returning, Thomas and Aris lead our glade survivors on a mission to break out of the facility. Nearly stopped by the leader of the facility Janson (Game of Thrones’ Aidan Gillen), Thomas and his friends escape the clutches of WCKD once again. Only this time instead of the lush glade, they are confronted with an unforgiving landscape of scorching sun and towering sand dunes. After encountering zombie-like creatures, Aris and Thomas lead the group toward the WCKD resistance in the mountains. Despite defeating the ravenous creatures from the maze and once again escaping from WCKD, nothing has prepared the group for what lies in the desert.

The best feature this woeful sequel has going for it is that it is never boring. From the moment the movie opens to the time it closes, you will probably never yawn and even jump from time to time. Think about this installment as I am Legend meets The Hills Have Eyes meets The Divergent Series. There is even a scene that looks like it leaped right out of the trailers on The Lost World: Jurassic Park. I’ve often commented that sequels in a trilogy are required to be the meat of the series. It often should include the backstory, exposition, and character development needed to launch the series into the final chapter. In many ways, The Scorch Trials is an efficient sequel in the YA franchise, but it lacks the inspiration required to be a good or great sequel. Excellent examples of sequels that were both effective and inspirational are The Empire Strikes Back, The Two Towers, and The Prisoner of Azkaban. I was hoping to see some growth amongst the characters, but all of them pretty well seemed to be just as they were in the first film.

One of the fun ways to approach typical YA movies is by reading them as depicting real-world situations as an analogy. Caution: this may give away a reveal in the movie a little, but I feel that this movie can be read as social commentary on the current state of the U.S. social security dilemma. Won’t go into anymore detail than that because I do not want to spoil one of the turning points. Not that YA movies provide answers to real-life problems, but they can often allow us to look at hot-button sociopolitical topics from new perspectives. Another positive element of this genre is that it has inspired young adults to read who otherwise may not have desired to read for pleasure. Beyond the pages of the books that inspire YA movies, the movies are often produced in such a way that they are fun to watch no matter if you are 15 or 45. Even though I don’t feel The Scorch Trials was a great sequel and showcases obliquely motivated characters aimlessly moving from one place to another and very little actually advances the plot or shows direction, it is a fun movie to watch and will definitely keep you entertained for the more than 2hr runtime.

Unsure as to why 20th Century Fox chose mid-September for the release of this movie that feels like it should have been released in May, it is definitely one to catch in theaters because it will lose a lot of its appeal on the smaller screens in our homes. Be sure to re-watch the first one because it picks up right where the previous one ended. Oh yeah, you’ll definitely like the high caliber visual and special effects that are usually not associated with this genre.