Release date: 10th March 2016/Watch the trailer here
While young adult literature continues to flourish, the YA film genre has been feeling stagnant and oversaturated for a while now. For every Hunger Games and Maze Runner, there are the box office bombs – the film adaptation of the first in Cassandra Clare’s successful Mortal Instruments series was such a flop that the subsequent films were scrapped, and this year’s The 5th Wave also found itself floundering at the box office.
While the Divergent series, based on Veronica Roth’s bestselling books, hasn’t been a total flop (yet), it hasn’t seen the same success of some of its rivals, either. As someone who has watched all three films and read all three books, it’s hard to understand what has gone so wrong. I enjoyed the books – but as for the films? Divergent was good. Insurgent was average. Allegiant was terrible.
The Divergent series is based on the premise of a futuristic vision of Chicago, in which society has been divided into strict factions – Abnegation for the selfless, Dauntless for the brave, Amity for the peaceful, Candor for the honest, and Erudite for the intelligent. Allegiant (which follows the money-making trend of splitting the final book in a YA series into two films) picks up where Insurgent left off: with the revelation of life beyond Chicago’s walls. The idea behind Divergent is a smart one which flourishes within the pages of the novels, but translates poorly once simplified for the screen. The faction system is too much like the Hogwarts houses of Harry Potter, the ominous organisation experimenting on the people of Chicago without their knowledge shares too many similarities with The Maze Runner‘s WICKED. The books have plenty of new and original ideas, but these ideas never really translate to the films. Perhaps the biggest mistake made by the Divergent films – or Allegiant, at least – was to all but discard its source material.
In the book, the world beyond Chicago is a futuristic one ravaged by war; a desolate wasteland, with Chicago’s O’Hare airport acting as the base for the fictional organisation, the Bureau of Genetic Welfare. In the film, everything looks like Mars. The world beyond has become a radioactive wilderness (although apparently, all it takes is a simple wall to protect Chicago from this supposed radioactivity) where the rain is blood-red and O’Hare has become a futuristic structure that is unrecognisable as an airport, with a plethora of gadgets and devices that are never really explained. Although the filmmakers’ vision was clearly quite different from my own, I would have had no issues with their portrayal of this landscape from the future, if it wasn’t for the fact that the constant distracting CGI is so frustratingly, laughably cheap-looking.
Still, it seems like the CGI took precedence over both the characters and the story itself. Major new characters from the book are cast aside and lumped into all-encompassing roles or completely gone altogether, while familiar faces with interesting story arcs are ignored to focus instead on Shailene Woodley’s Tris and Theo James’ moody Four. Jeff Daniels is wheeled in to play David, the director of the Bureau of Genetic Welfare and a character who serves little purpose in the film other than to explain things to the audience (Jeff Daniels also joins Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer and Miles Teller in the list of the film’s actors who are too good for it and who really need better agents).
In Allegiant‘s defence, however, it does contain some excellently-choreographed fight sequences, and while the final third of the film is as predictable as you’d expect, it’s exciting enough to slightly salvage the wreckage of the first ninety minutes. Still, even this isn’t enough to really make you care about the characters, the story, or its unanswered questions. Ascendant will arrive in 2017 to answer those questions and offer what should be a thrilling finale, but in all likelihood, it will be every bit as boring, conventional, over-long, cheap, lazy, and (insert a negative adjective of your choice here) as its predecessor.