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Allegiant ••

AllegiantfilmposterStarring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Jeff Daniels
Director: Robert Schwentke
Screenplay: Noah Oppenheim, Adam Cooper
Action/Adventure/Mystery, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 120 minutes
Release Date: March 18, 2016


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(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, do you pledge an Allegiant review?

Only as an appeasement to you. Let’s recap:

We pick up the story with Evelyn (Naomi Watts) holding trials for members of the Erudite and Dauntless factions. The trials turn into executions for some of the lead conspirators. Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) decide to escape the walls of Chicago. With them are Caleb (Ansel Elgort), Christina (Zoë Kravitz), and Peter (Miles Teller). Outside the walls, the landscape reveals the toxic, decimated aftereffects of nuclear war. The fleeing group is attacked by Edgar (Jonny Weston), but a squadron of airships saves them and whisks them away to a highly advanced city.

In the Bureau of Genetic Welfare Tris learns that Chicago is an experiment. The world was infected with “bad genes” and walled-in Chicago was an attempt to “purify” the gene pool. David (Jeff Daniels) explains that Tris is the first and only truly Divergent – a genetically pure individual. This means that the city can be cured and humanity can be reunited.

Greg, it seems pretty clear that movies such as Allegiant and The Hunger Games have run their course. We not only get the message of these films, but we got it a long time ago. I think it’s important to emphasize that young adult dystopian future stories have served a useful purpose. Societies, as run by old geezers like you and me, have been corrupt and exploitative. Young adults have had enough and are demanding much-needed change. In the real world, we see this “revolution” happening in a mostly peaceful way with, ironically, an oldtimer like Bernie Sanders leading the charge.

So I get all that. Unfortunately, the movie formula has worn thin and has outlived both its usefulness and its entertainment value. In these films, you can take it to the bank that all characters over the age of 30 are bad, and characters under the age of 30 are generally good. The exceptions are sleazy youth who become paid minions of the nasty geezers. A second problem with these dystopian franchises is that they slice and dice the original books into multiple movies. The resultant fragmentation gives us lead characters who don’t grow or evolve over the course of a single film. Across all the films, there is considerable growth, but it’s less detectable and less powerful in these film fragments. These movie fragments leave us with a lot of things going on in the service of very little plot advancement.

You’re right on every count, Scott. And Allegiant fails again at delivering a hero we can invest in. As with 2014’s Divergent and last year’s Insurgent, Allegiant serves up a weakling hero. I know you favor Tris, Scott. But I find her to be increasingly a damsel in distress to be rescued by boyfriend Four. Again and again we see Tris taking the safe road while masculine Four leads the way or saves our hero. It’s unacceptable and surely if the gender roles were reversed we’d reject that hero’s journey. This is in no way the fault of star Shailene Woodley who does all she can with the material handed her. Woodley is wonderful in everything she does – it’s just that Tris is a disappointing hero.

You also point out that the message of the story is hard to digest. I don’t think it’s just that we’re tired of the dystopian model (which we are) but the world created by Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant simply makes no sense. The premise is that Chicago is a walled-off city-as-experiment (see 2014’s The Maze Runner). Apparently, those inside the city have damaged DNA and by separating the inhabitants into 5 communities based upon their personality types, a “pure” DNA sample will emerge (the Divergent). Of course this is preposterous.

And apparently David has the ability to wipe everyone’s mind with a gas that has to be dispersed from inside the city. So he sends a mole in to throw the switch. However, he DOES have the power to shut every door to the switch that will turn it off – which thwarts Tris’s climactic race against time to undo the damage. But if David can control the rat maze that Tris is running, why can’t he just throw the switch himself remotely? It’s non-sensical and insults the audience’s intelligence.

Yes, the movie is problematic on several levels. The movie insults our intelligence by trying to convince us that people could live in a wasteland so toxic that it is incapable of growing vegetation, where the drinking water is red, and where it rains blood. The land is clearly inhospitable to life, just like this movie is inhospitable to believability.

As I’ve noted, our hero Tris shows no growth here, and if anything she shows some character regression. Jeff Daniels does a commendable job of playing the villain role, but one has to wonder why everyone knows he’s a cad except Tris who, if she’s truly a Divergent, should be sharper and not duller than everyone. She’s obviously a good candidate for some helpful mentoring here, but alas, no positive mentors are to be found — unless you count Four, whose counsel she ignores because if she listens to him then we’d only have a 40-minute movie.

I think Daniels’ character is a dark mentor. He’s leading her down a path that subjugates the weak children of the dead zone and enslaves the citizens of Chicago. And of course he’s also the villain. As with many villains he believes that what he is doing is right and any means justifies the ends. So we have an interesting hybrid character of the dark mentor/villain.

Allegiant is just a half of a movie as the source material was cut in two to allow the movie studio to extract an extra movie ticket out of us. And it makes the storytelling more difficult as the movie ends at the midpoint of the last book in the series. The story here makes little sense and leaves us feeling up in the air. I give Allegiant just 2 out of 5 Reels.

Tris, as the hero, lives up to my low expectations. As with earlier incarnations of the hero, she is not very thoughtful or much of a leader. Triss does ultimately take on the role of leader of Chicago by the end of the film which is a nice transformation for her. I can only give her 3 out of 5 Heroes, though that is one more than I gave her last year.

Finally, there is a dearth of mentor characters here. Daniels’ character is an obvious dark mentor that anyone could see coming. And as a villain he lacks a certain dangerous quality. I can only give him 1 Mentor out of 5.

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Allegiant is the most disappointing of the three Divergent movies, demonstrating the perils of chopping a single story into multiple stories. There’s some decent material here to work with, but this film dooms itself with a few obvious plot holes and with a hero whose obliviousness belies the supposed genius of her character. Like you, Greg, I can only award Allegiant 2 Reels out of 5.

The hero journey is problematic for reasons that we needn’t go over again. Let’s just award her 2 Heroes out of 5 and move onto the rating of the mentor characters — of which there are none. You do make a good observation, Greg, that David is a dark mentor. Tris needs all the help she could get but other than Four there was no one to advise her. I agree that 1 Mentor out of 5 is the most appropriate rating.

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