About a year ago, Wandering Through the Shelves had us binge-watching Movies Based on Young Adult Novels. The first two films in the Divergent series were neither the best or the worst things I watched that week. They’re not great- even “good” would be a stretch- but I was won over by the decency and unlikely strength of Tris (Shailene Woodley). I also couldn’t have done without the effortless charisma of Miles Teller as Peter, who brings much-needed personality to a series that takes itself way too seriously whenever he’s not on screen.
In the first two films in the series, the citizens (prisoners?) of Chicago have been assigned factions based on their defining trait (athletic, honest, kind, smart, and selfless). I’ve always found this basic premise to be a little lazy and a pretty adolescent view of the world but, hey, it’s young adult fiction. Besides, it’s what makes Divergent Divergent. To do away with these factions would be like the Twilight series continuing without any vampires or werewolves of the Fifty Shades series going straight edge. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what this series does.
Allegiant picks up where Insurgent left off, immediately after the fall of the faction system. Without it, not only does Chicago lose control over its population but the story loses its focus and coherence. Fearing that Evelyn, (Naomi Watts) is becoming as oppressive a leader as Kate Winslet’s character had been, five young adults venture over the walls. What follows is sillier than the other two films combined, exposition-heavy, and impossible to follow. Tris, the heroic non-conformist of the story, somehow starts towing the party line. Woodley does her best to keep her interest but it’s tough not to be frustrated with her when everyone onscreen and in the audience thinks it’s obvious that she’s being played. Even Miles Teller’s shtick is getting old. Pick a side, buddy!
The Divergent series isn’t really made for adults and for all I know may please its target audience. Because most 16 year-olds wouldn’t be interested in our site and most of our readers wouldn’t be interested in this series, you might wonder why I’d even bother reviewing it. To that, I can only say “Jeff Daniels”. Daniels, joining Winslet, Watts, Octavia Spencer, and Ray Stevenson, becomes the latest good actor over 40 to have his talents wasted by this trite material. How so many good actors got involved in this series, I have no idea. But judging by their performances, I can tell it’s not because they wanted to be there. By the third film, their talents are no longer just wasted. They’re giving bad performances.
What’s happening in Hollywood that the likes of Naomi Watts and Jeff Daniels need a job this badly? Or that any filmmaker could become so distracted by their pretty but mostly boring young stars that they would forget to give Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer even a single key scene?
This is why I care enough about this series to write about it.