The second sequel in “The Divergent Series” entitled “Allegiant” (**1/2 OUT OF ****) finally lets our non-conformist heroine Tris Prior and her quartet of companions escape from Chicago. The Summit Entertainment/Lionsgate franchise kept Tris and company confined to the ravaged Windy City metropolis in both “Divergent” (2014) and “Insurgent” (2015), while the five factions vying for dominance collapsed after Jeanine’s conspiracy to destroy another group Abnegation. “Divergent” did a first-rate job of forging the franchise, formulating those antagonistic five factions, and furnishing us another gorgeous gal with gumption. The audacious “Insurgent” ensued and shattered the quasi-peace that existed among those five factions. Actually, one faction had been obliterated by “Insurgent” so four remained, but the cohesion of those factions was coming apart at the seams. Now, in “Allegiant,” with only two groups of survivors locking horns and a civil war threatening, our heroine and her pals take it on the lam, scale the wall, and plunge beyond Chicago into an irradiated wasteland to confront the Founders control the city and its inhabitants. Although I read the novel “Divergent,” I skipped both “Insurgent” and “Allegiant,” so I have no idea how faithfully the filmmakers have adhered to author Veronica Roth’s post-apocalyptic, young adult trilogy. Predictably, nothing happens to either Tris or Four, and this constitutes a problem with “Allegiant.” After the superb “Divergent,” where both of protagonist’s parents perished, and then “Insurgent” eliminated two major villains, “Allegiant” struggles to maintain sufficient tension despite its plethora of action scenes. Indeed, the loss of Jeanine—an awesome adversary by any standard in “Divergent” as well as “Insurgent”–and the two lackluster substitutes for her—Evelyn and David—undermines this less above-average sequel. Moreover, neither Jeff Daniels nor Naomi Watts as David and Evelyn respectively can overshadow for Jeanine’s villainous presence. Further, the loss of a second villain, Eric (Jai Courtney of “Terminator Genisys”), in “Insurgent” proves almost as irreplaceable. Strong sci-fi action scenes mustering futuristic aircraft and infantry hardware bolster the storyline, but the absence of dastardly villains diminishes the friction.
“Insurgent” director Robert Schwentke knows how to stage adventurous action with computer generated special effects, and he flaunts his expertise with a crackerjack opening sequence. Initially, we learn (as if we didn’t know) Jeanine and her oppressive regime are dead and gone. Jeanine’s lieutenants aren’t alive for long. A defiant Max (Mekhi Phifer of “Dawn of the Dead”) suffers the wrath of the downtrodden that he rode roughshod over for Jeanine. Chicago’s new leader, Evelyn (Naomi Watts of “King Kong”), stages tribunals to punish the guilty. Evelyn’s chief lieutenant, Edgar (Jonny Weston of “Taken 3”), caps Max in the back of the head after the crowd gives a thumbs-down signal for Max to bite it. Of course, we hear the explosive blast of Edgar’s revolver, but Schwentke doesn’t show the bloody obliteration of Max’s noggin. After all, the Motion Picture Producers Association rated “Allegiant” PG-13 “for intense violence and action, thematic elements, and some partial nudity.” The next candidate awaiting execution is none other than Tris’ brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort of “Carrie”), and he pleads for mercy. Four (Theo James of “Underworld: Awakening”) uses his position as Evelyn’s son to haul a cowering Caleb out of jail, fake his death, and then spirit him out of the city. Tris (Shailene Woodley of “The Descendants”), Christina (Zoë Kravitz of “After Earth”), Tori (Maggie Q of “Priest”), and Peter (Miles Teller of “The Maze Runner”) accompany them. The suspense in this scene you make you squirm. Too late, Edgar discovers Four’s treachery and mobilizes manpower to pursue Tris and company. Evelyn warns Edgar to bring back her son alive. Our heroic quintet imitates Batman and Robin from the 1960s era “Batman” television show. After they fire grappling hooks at the fence atop the wall, they hoist themselves vertically up the wall by means of wires that reel them in to the top of the barricade. Unfortunately, nothing is a picnic, and Tris has to brave a barrage of gunfire from Edgar and company after she learns that Evelyn electrified the fence at the top of the wall. Indeed, Evelyn has become every bit as autocratic as Jeanine; she has sealed off Chicago so nobody can set foot outside of the city. If you missed “Insurgent,” you should know Tris received a message from the Founders on the far side of the wall inviting her to visit them. Tris blows up the truck pumping electricity into the fence, and our heroic horde crosses the wall. Tragically, one of the quintet doesn’t survive. Later, our weary warriors find themselves trudging through a bleak, forbidding, Martian-like landscape. As it turns out, humanity waged a nuclear war some 200 years ago. The skies shower them with toxic red rainfall, and then they encounter trigger-happy Edgar again as he careens after them in gleeful pursuit. Edgar gets the surprise of his life when the landscape in front of him magically changes, like a huge mirage, to reveal an army of infantry and aerial assault craft hovering on the other side. The soldiers welcome our heroes and transport them back to a glittering city on the site of what once was O’Hare International Airport. Tris meets the well-dressed head of the Bureau of Genetic Welfare, David (Jeff Daniels of “Gods and Generals”), who claims that he has been watching her with an elaborate surveillance systems since her birth.
Mind you, “Allegiant” is another example of those novels that the studio split into two parts to boost box office receipts. Consequently, it may be presumptuous to criticize “Allegiant” for lacking the tenacity of its predecessors, since the third sequel will finalize everything. Indeed, like previous franchises, including “Harry Potter,” “Twilight,” and “The Hunger Games,” studios were reluctant to conclude their cash cows. Unlike the second lackluster “Hunger Games,” “Allegiant” propels the narrative forward, pits our protagonists against perils galore, and introduces new obstacles, without giving away entirely everything left to come in the final film.
“Your imagination can take you where nothing else can.” Van Roberts