Film and TV

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
The Divergent Series: Allegiant - Part 1

Title: Jesus, do I have to type all that out again?

Describe This Movie In One Simpsons Quote: "The Pledge of Allegiance does not end with 'Hail Satan.'"

Rating Using Random Objects Related To The Film: One Vault Boy out of five.

Brief Plot Synopsis:
 He would've gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for those meddling kids.

Tagline: "What makes us different ties us together."

Better Tagline: "The kids are all trite."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: When last we left Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James), whose real name everybody knows but for some reason never bothers to use, they had just watched Four's mother, Evelyn (Naomi Watts), shoot Jeanine in the head, not only usurping Kate Winslet's role as Actor Most Slumming for the Paycheck but also installing the Factionless as rulers of Chicago. Trouble is, Tris already opened the Faction Puzzle Box, revealing their entire existence to be an experiment. She and Four are keen to go over the wall, but there's the unpleasant matter of Tris's brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) possibly getting himself airholed in the upcoming trial of the Erudite.

"Critical" Analysis: We've discussed possible reasons for the popularity of these teen dystopia books and movies before, but there's a larger issue that needs to be addressed. Namely, that there just aren't enough movies that speak to *my* generation.

There was a brief period, in the 1990s, when studios and marketers actually gave a shit about Generation X. We know now it was because the generation behind us wasn't old enough to buy anything yet, and the powers were so desperate to get those fat Millennial stacks that one of those movies was Reality Bites. Now that the M's have all that sweet student loan money to spend on movie tickets, we fortysomethings are lucky to get the odd Richard Linklater movie or Duplass series.

But there's a downside for the youths, and it's not just the eventual realization that life is disappointment and everything they love will one day die. In this case, churning out these movies as fast as Mormon YA authors can produce them means they're becoming indistinguishable from each other, blending together to the point they can't even be told apart by their taglines.

Case in point: I chose the one above arbitrarily from the dozen or so provided for Allegiant. These included "The truth lies beyond" and "Escape the world you know" and "Break the boundaries of your world." All of which are statements vague enough they could be applied to anything from office motivational posters to erectile dysfunction medications.

Everything about Allegiant — and the Divergent series in general, but this movie in particular — feels wholly artificial, from the laughably staged posters to the green screen set pieces that drain the film of any sense of urgency or danger to the cast themselves.  Tris and Four and the gang soon encounter the Bureau of Genetic Welfare, who — oh hey — have just been watching everything going on in Chicago for the past 200 years, and only Peter (Miles Teller, who I have a hard time believing is acting) seems remotely bothered by this.

Most of the actors just seem bored, hitting their marks as we inevitably shuffle toward a final movie and a (probably) unsatisfying conclusion. James has a grasp on the rudiments of Brooding Action Hero, but Woodley is actually getting worse as the series progresses, and Jeff Daniels, as David, the BMOC of the BGW, acts more like a disappointed dad than a despot confronted with the collapse of his regime.

The same apathy is evident in the screenwriting (The Divergent Series: Turgent). Example: The five escapees stock up for their journey to the Great Beyond with a whopping two guns and three backpacks more suited to disc golf than wilderness survival. This is likely because the film's superabundance of writers know it barely takes the group an hour to get scooped up by the Bureau, and — through the power of transitive lazy storytelling — unwittingly confer that knowledge on their characters.

David and Tris also travel to "Providence" (Rhode Island? Who knows?) for a meeting with the Council sans escort despite the savage environment. They then return from the revelation of David's deception with no more tension than that of a couple bickering over how much of a tip they left the server (The Divergent Series: Indigent).

There's another battle, another betrayal, and the stage is set for another slog of a big-budget YA finale (see also Mockingjay - Part 2). Given how incoherent and bloated the Divergent series has become, it might be time to look to the next generation of mankind for inspiration. Surely I'm not the only one who could get behind a Phineas and Ferb movie?
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar