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At the movies: ‘Allegiant — Part 1’

Lisa Miller
Special to Lake Tahoe Action
Author Veronica Roth attends the premiere of "Allegiant" at AMC Lincoln Square on Monday, March 14, 2016, in New York.
Evan Agostini / Invision / AP | Invision

THE DIVERGENT SERIES: ALLEGIANT — Part 1

C

Directed By Robert Schwentke

Starring Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Naomi Watts, Miles Teller, Octavia Spencer, Jeff Daniels, Zoe Kravitz, Maggie Q, Bill Skarsgard, Ray Stevenson, Mekhi Phifer, Ashley Judd

Lionsgate, Rated PG-13, Sci-Fi, 139 minutes

“Allegiant — Part 1,” is the third chapter in the Divergent Series. Adapted from Veronica’s Roth’s young adult trilogy, it’s set to yield four films. While the previous installments lurched from one storytelling tangent to another, the action in part three flows easily from scene to scene. However, absurdity rears its ugly head almost immediately.

Post-apocalyptic Chicago is a walled-off land housing members of former factions. If you’re just tuning in, those factions are: Intellectuals known as Erudite, truth tellers or Candor, the brave and physically strong Dauntless, the peaceful and harmonious Amity, and finally, Abnegation — those who selflessly help others.

Classified as Divergent because she fits into no faction, heroine Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) and her boyfriend Four (Theo James), with help from Four’s estranged mother Evelyn (Naomi Watts) and Evelyn’s rebel army, have freed the populace from its iron-fisted ruler Janine (Kate Winslet). That’s the good news. The bad news is that in the aftermath, Evelyn appoints herself as acting president only to order to continue Janine’s policy — keeping everyone locked inside Chicago. Evelyn also convenes a hanging posse to put Janine’s former personnel on trial for war crimes.

Enlisting Four’s help to rescue her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) from Evelyn’s tribunal, Tris persuades Caleb to join her and a few devoted followers, such as Christina (Zoe Kravitz), along with newly displaced traitor Peter (Miles Teller), to scale the city’s sky high wall and explore what lies beyond.

Roth’s mega-selling novels generate convoluted plots to illustrate the evils of exclusivity and segregation. This message is hammered home by a plot full of holes. For instance, outside Chicago’s wall, Tris and company discover the world devastated by wars 200 years earlier. The landscape is heavily polluted with toxins. Yet no one explains how a mere wall has managed to keep Chicago’s residents toxin free.

Soon, the group is rescued by a militaristic band that announces, “Welcome to the future.” These newfound friendlies possess enviable technology that enables them to hide within a camouflaged geodesic dome, which also shields them from the toxins. We follow Tris through a tense decontamination process during which we’re uncertain whether she and her friends will be cleansed or be killed.

They are taken to the Bureau of Genetic Welfare (situated at the now defunct O’Hare airport) where David (Jeff Daniels) presides over a project to purify the human genome. Tris is immediately taken to David’s aerie, a gleaming penthouse with floor-to-ceiling views of the toxic world beyond. She alone from her group is welcomed to David’s private space only because her genes are pure. He dogmatically proclaims his mission to fix the damage caused by years of prewar genetic tinkering — but the question soon becomes, can David be trusted?

While Daniels plays David in an understated, fatherly manner, we know better. Tris is determined to believe in a savior, so can the man in the white suit be a liar? Tris fails to ask the right questions or to listen to Four, and so remains blissfully unaware that their agendas diverge. We might not mind if the story gave her better reasons to buy into David’s bizarre claims, but as depicted here, her lapse in judgment is critical.

This leaves Four, cast in a secondary role, to function as our conduit because it is only through him that we connect with the truth. By the time Tris comes around, still protesting that she isn’t cut out to be a leader, we can’t help but agree.

Portrayed by Woodley as a weepy young woman with a talent for kicking ass in a fight, it’s a struggle to picture Tris as humanity’s future.

“Allegiant — Part 1,” boasts some admirable special effects and the story moves along at a brisk pace that seems coherent as long as basic science and psychology are ignored. Is it wrong to wish that stories aimed at middle school, high school and college students might pay attention to the factual information they present? I don’t know. Then again, we’d only be setting kids up for bitter disappointment later on.


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