Even though all the available evidence suggests that the once-lucrative, dystopian YA adaptation trend has run its course, the producers behind the Divergent series would beg to differ. Given its derivative, original plot and logic-challenged world building, Veronica Roth’s YA series didn’t exactly merit big-screen adaptations, but here we are, three films in with one more film to go. Following a cash-grab trend, the producers behind The Divergent Series: Allegiant – Part 1 (hereinafter Allegiant) decided to split Roth’s final book into two halves, Allegiant this year and Ascendant sometime next year, minus director Robert Schwentke (The Divergent Series: Insurgent, R.I.P.D., RED, The Time Traveler’s Wife, Flightplan). A competent, anonymous director, Schwentke unsurprisingly delivers a proficiently made, if ultimately forgettable entry in the series. To his credit, not to mention the credit of his screenwriting team, however, Allegiant ends on a conclusive note and not a cliffhanger, wrapping up plot threads, loose ends, and character arcs with a welcome finality that more than suggests Ascendant should be scuttled forthwith.
Allegiant thankfully skips over recapping the previous entries in great detail, instead opting for a “moments later” continuation from Insurgent. Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley), the most special divergent of all (special because she’s the protagonist, divergent because she transcends the overt, literal factionalism of her future world dystopia, New Chicago), and Four (Theo James), her best friend forever/romantic partner, joined forces with the outcasts and pariahs of New Chicago, the Factionless, led by Four’s long-lost mother, Evelyn (a too-young-to-be-his mother Naomi Watts), and eliminated Jeanine (Oscar-winner Kate Winslet), the leader of the Erudite faction, New Chicago’s empathy-challenged brainiacs (an unwelcome anti-intellectualism runs through both the series and the big-screen adaptations) with a bullet to the brain. While a new, faction-free social and political order finally seemed possible for the city’s inhabitants, Tris and Four were last seen prepping for a trip beyond the fortified walls of New Chicago to the potentially dangerous, toxic world outside.
Except not so fast: Evelyn’s insurrection against the Powers-That-Be (or Where) leaves her in unquestionable command of post-revolution New Chicago. With years of pent-up bitterness, resentment, and rage at the Powers-That-Where, Evelyn orders show trials for the members of the Erudite and Dauntless (the city’s brave, bold, IQ-challenged enforcers) factions that aligned themselves with Jeanine’s coup. With angry, eager mobs at her disposal, Evelyn begins to purge the new regime’s enemies with extreme prejudice. Four’s pleas for due process (or the equivalent thereof) or permission to leave New Chicago fall on deaf ears (Evelyn’s). With Tris’ Erudite brother, Caleb (Ansel Elgort), facing a show trial of his own for crimes against the other factions (a not unnatural consequence of siding with the losing side in a revolution), Tris and Four commandeer a military vehicle and along with a newly freed Caleb and an along for the ride Christina (Zoë Kravitz) and Peter (Miles Teller), they head out for the world beyond the city’s walls.
With Evelyn’s paramilitary minions in close pursuit, Tris, Four, and the others venture into a Mad Max-inspired, toxic wasteland. Before they get too far, however, they encounter a force field of some kind hiding another mini-city/society, the Bureau of Genetic Welfare, led by the Director/David (Jeff Daniels), an insufferable exemplar of white male, corporate privilege. As an adult with power in a YA adaptation, he shouldn’t be trusted. Tris trusts him anyway. From his gleaming glass and metal tower, he presides over a bifurcated, stratified society, the so-called “Pure” and the “Damaged.” Roth wasn’t particularly subtle in dissecting the ills inherent in factionalism and tribalism and raising real-world parallels in her novels and Schwentke isn’t either. As the series’ Chosen One, Tris predictably falls into the “Pure” group, a miracle of some kind given that everyone else in New Chicago, including Four, falls into the Damaged category. The Damaged, not to mention the apocalypse that followed, are the result of uncontrolled genetic testing.
It doesn’t make much, if any, sense, but then again little in the Divergent series does. Not even Schwentke’s three-man adaptation team, Noah Oppenheim, Adam Cooper, and Bill Collage, could make sense out of Roth’s nonsensical world building. At the end of Insurgent, we learned that New Chicago was nothing more than a social, cultural, and political experiment created by offscreen puppeteers, revealed as David and his cohorts in Allegiant, not apparently to see whether a society mapped out along clearly defined lines and factions, factions that blurred somewhat during a Sorting Hat-inspired ceremony (you’re born into a faction, but after testing as a teen, you can also choose a different faction), or even to develop the faction-transcending divergent(s), but to see whether genetically undamaged individuals could arise from the experiment. Thinking through the logic (or logic thereof) of Roth’s dystopia is enough to cause a migraine.
On the positive tip, Allegiant doesn’t suffer from the usual problems associated with split adaptations: At least superficially, it resolves the new conflict between New Chicago and the Bureau of Genetic Welfare, with New Chicago’s citizens, led as always, by Tris and Four. A new day, a new dawn of peaceful cooperation and accommodation between and among the factions and the Factionless seems all but imminent and with the changes, some of them major, between novel and adaptation, plus a few, modestly well-directed, crowd-pleasing set pieces, the series mercifully could (and should) end here. It won’t, of course, not when there’s money to be separated from the series rapidly diminishing fan base.