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Thursday, March 24, 2016 12:23 am

Director’s pace, cast’s strength save Allegiant

 

Having salvaged the Divergent series with his fine work on Insurgent, director Robert Schwentke pulls off a similar stunt with Allegiant, the first part of the third entry in Veronica Roth’s dystopia trilogy. Though no one will ever argue that there’s anything remotely original about the story of the author’s heroine Tris and her continued adventures, what helps make these films distinctive is their overtly cynical look at the human race and the solid cast that’s been assembled that plays this material as if it were Shakespeare.

Schwentke wastes little time reintroducing the principals of the series and the dire world they live in. Having dispatched with the corrupt regime that ruled the ocean of rubble that was once Chicago, Evelyn (Naomi Watts, slumming once more) and her rebel force set out to take control by publically executing those who resisted them in the past. This doesn’t sit well with Tris (Shailene Woodley), who’s been proven to be genetically perfect, nor her partner, Four (the ever-hunky Theo James). They decide to get while the getting’s good and along with Tris’s brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort), the duplicitous David (Miles Teller) and warriors Christina (Zoe Kravitz) and Tori (Maggie Q), they decide to head over the wall that surrounds Chicago to see what’s on the other side.

What’s waiting for them is no picnic as they traipse across a barren wasteland, teeming with radiation, while being pelted by occasional bouts of toxic red rain. However, an army that claims to have been awaiting their arrival rescues them. Taken to a city that was surely designed by “Utopias ‘R Us,” the group is treated something like saviors as their leader David (Jeff Daniels) informs them that they’ve all been watching them since birth and that Tris is a special case. She’s soon given the label “Pure” as her genetic make-up has healed itself from the damage done to her by the nuclear war.

Of course, nothing is as it seems, and soon Tris and the crew find themselves on the run before they head back to Chicago to stop a civil war that’s broken out and a dire solution to it that may be used. There’s more than enough action in the film and, to his credit, Schwentke knows how to effectively stage, choreograph and edit these sequences with visual clarity being the paramount concern. The filmmaker’s workmanlike approach helps prevent these movies from becoming bogged down, a trait his peers would do well to follow.

As far as on-screen talent is concerned, there’s an embarrassment of riches at Schwentke’s disposal. Though it looks as though she might be starting to get a bit bored with all of this silliness, Woodley is still a captivating presence on screen, so much so that I hope she’ll be able to use this franchise to springboard to better material like Jennifer Lawrence did with The Hunger Games. James hopefully will be able to follow a similar path as he’s far more committed to this material than he should be, a quality that will hold him in good stead when better scripts come along. The only one not willing to go with the flow is Teller, who’s obviously phoning things in here, barely containing the disdain he feels for this franchise.

It’s become an industry standard to bilk fans of YA adaptations twice when things are wrapping up, taking the final book of any series in question and making two movies from it rather than one. So, a final Divergent is in the offing in 2017. While I can’t say I’m looking forward to it, I’m not dreading it either, which is a miracle what with the redundant nature of this series. Woodley and company are just good enough to perhaps get me to buy in for one last go around, which is some kind of small victory where their efforts are concerned.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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