Monday, 9 May 2016

The Divergent Series: Allegiant (2016) - Movie Review

Looks like we have another addition to the series that never ceases to make no sense… except the battlefield has shifted this time around. While the previous films hadn’t gotten that hot a reception with critics, I would’ve considered those as an honorary critical disagreement as it seemed like I was the only one who could see these films as the absolute nonsense that they were. Everyone was going on about how derivative they were (and they most certainly are) and how they’re mediocre at best. And then along came this film and suddenly everyone felt the same growing feeling of confusion as me. Must be a way to balance out what happened with me and Melissa McCarthy. So, now when I endlessly bitch about continuity errors and exhibit the kind of ephemera retention that makes Trekkies blush, I won’t be the only guy doing it this time. It’s the hate that brings people together. So, without further ado, let’s get into this whopping 12%-er and see if my expectations were met from last time, in that this somehow makes everything even more confusing.

The plot: With the discovery of civilisation outside of Chicago, Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James), Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and Peter (Miles Teller) make their way across the threshold to find the people responsible for the “experiment” that they had been born into. They soon encounter the Bureau of Genetic Welfare and the man in charge of the experiment, David (Jeff Daniels), who believes that Tris could be the key to their salvation. However, it quickly becomes apparent that the Bureau has other plans for the group, and it’s up to Tris and the others to save Chicago, and everyone in it, from destruction.

It’s a bad sign when one of the bad guys is the only likeable character in the film. No, I’m not talking about Dave, who is so thinly-veiled as the villain that he becomes a walking ticking clock with us just counting down the visible seconds. I’m not referring to Evelyn either, whose revelation that she is becoming as bad as Jeanine from the first two was yet another thud of a reveal. She wasn’t exactly saintly in the second film to begin with. Instead, I’m talking about Peter, who is hands-down the best actor in this thing. Sure, he’s just about as stupid and impulsive as everyone else, but his source of comedy is still intact and his character actions are consistent since he already operates on a “I’ll fight for whoever benefits me the most” basis. The acting has taken a definite fall, as it seems like everyone has all but clocked out of this franchise and are on auto-pilot. Tris is wasted and shows pretty much no emotion here, which is a serious disappointment coming from Shailene Woodley who is a more than capable actor, Four is the muscle and only hits that single note when the plot needs him to, Caleb thankfully grows a pair and makes for an uneasy second place in terms of characters to root for and Christina has completely faded into the background by this point.

We don’t have Akiva Goldsman to contend with this time, thankfully, instead we have Noah Oppenheim from the first Maze Runner film coming in as a co-writer. Unfortunately, I think we’re too far into the mire that is this series’ premise for him to be able to save it, not that he is trying all that to begin with from what I can tell. This manages to keep up with the saga’s track record of failing to make sense at every possible turn, only creating multitudes more questions than they are able to answer. So, by this point, the faction system in Chicago is gone in the fall of Erudite’s regime so everyone is just part of the civilisation there. And yet, it has effectively managed to become even worse than before. Jeanine may have been rock stupid and assumed an ultimate weapon would be locked in a way that only the people the weapon is meant to destroy can unlock it, but she at least wanted and tried to keep order in the city. Under Evelyn, they’re essentially one chrome spray away from appearing as extras in the next Mad Max film. Hell, this might actually be trying to be a Mad Max film, given how Chicago and its surrounding foliage is separated by a straight line from the almost Martian landscape beyond it. At the very least, it’s once again ripping off the Maze Runner movies because it’s basically the Scorch with red rain.

The Council created the test because they wanted to find someone “pure” in a population of “damaged” people, which officially takes the clique-y vibe of the faction system, drives a nail through it and then slams it repeatedly into the audience’s head. So, when they finally find that pure one, Tris, they decide to (*SPOILERS*) erase the memories of everyone in the city and basically reset the experiment because the faction system works. Nevermind the Divergents that came with her, and the many others in the city, just restart because you actually… succeeded? This is also supposedly tied into a scheme involving kidnapping children from the desert, erasing their memories and bringing them into their society because apparently they don’t need to be tested as Divergents for the Council to know that they are pure and worthy to live with them. And yet, they willingly brought in Tris, someone who stood out from everyone else because she defied authority, and are surprised when she defies them as well? I’ve seen more sense in a NAMBLA tipping jar.

This is yet another YA adaptation that decided to split its final book into two films to milk the audience for twice the money… err, I mean to properly the story contained in the source material. Now, going by current efforts, all of one series that I’ve seen try this has been able to make it work. Spoiler alert: It’s not this one. Deathly Hallows Part 1 just felt like a prelude to the actual story, Breaking Dawn Part 1 served to do little more than stretch things out to tedious levels, and Mockingjay Part 1 had enough good story potential and approach to make it work in its own right. This is just build-up, build-up, build-up with a tacked-on finale stapled onto it to give it some facetious oomph. Really tedious and boring build-up as well, since unless it involves Peter in some way, everyone else is just spinning their wheels and never do much more than be Lego bricks.

The continuation of the series plot is bad enough with all its bass-ackwards decisions, but this film’s individual plot is slow doesn’t do much to change anything. All that seems to be different is that there is now a way through the wall between Chicago and the Council, and Dave has been outed as evil. That’s literally it; it’s like chess piece story-telling. However, I will give credit for one thing concerning this film’s universe. I at least know believe that it exists as a fictional universe; it is amazingly dumb but it is still a cohesive whole. It took until the near-finale for them to do it, but I’m willing to find anything to be positive about with this thing.

Since this has officially submerged itself in a particular stupid concept, and it seems like this is only going to get worse once Ascendant comes out, might as well put the stake through the heart of this film’s main theme and why it only serves to prove how dumb the writers are. They started out on a notion of separating people by 5 very distinct personality traits, because apparently we’re that basic that 5 is all we need to map out our brains, and even for the high school social group allegory it may have been attempting, this was a dumb idea from the start. But now that we have the context of the experiment’s intention, it evolves from there into fundamentally dumb and shows a pretty hefty misunderstanding of human psychology that, if you’re going to even attempt this kind of story, you should have some familiarity with.

Based on the Council’s reasons for doing so, and the actions taken by people even inside of the city, this film seems to be under the impression that genetic predisposition is the reason for all of our personality make-up. All of it. Environment barely seems to factor in, since the Council is so perfectly willing to think that erasing people’s memories will just reset them all and that’s all that’s needed. I don’t need a Bachelor’s in anything to be able to correct this film on that one. Genetics, or nature in this case, does play a part of it but nurturing is still a vital part of the equation. There are varying degrees of both, but it is never just one or the other that affects a person’s mentality. This film took its already broken thematic device, that being the existence of the faction system, and turned into the kind of pseudo-science that I would honestly have been expecting from God’s Not Dead 2.

All in all, for the love of God, won’t these films just die already?! I can’t believe there’s still one more movie to go; I feel like I’m about to torch a disfigured puppy orphanage. While the extreme logic gaps only widen the longer they linger on-screen as always, what makes this film so bad is that it’s not just the writing that sucks oysters this time around. The acting is stilted to the point of looking like they’re being told to act at gunpoint while on Valium; except for Miles Teller, who pretty much carries the film on his assholish shoulders, the fight scenes are painfully skippable, and the set design that I took time out to praise last year has now devolved into straight-up stealing from other films. If they suddenly announced a God’s Not Dead 3 release date, I would be looking forward to that more than Ascendant. At least I know that the public opinion does have power, as this film’s poor reception and ticket sales have resulted in the studios slashing the final film’s budget… which means that not only is there a chance of this whole shebang getting even worse, but it’s almost guaranteed at this point.

1 comment:

  1. Funny review. I applaud you for sitting through this movie -- After the first one, I just couldn't do it.

    - Zach