With the fall of the oppressive old order, Tris (Shailene Woodley), her boyfriend Four (Theo James) and their fellow freedom fighters hear a voice from beyond the Wall. It tells them their city was created as part of an experiment to safeguard the human race. Now the last hope for a bright future lies with 'Divergents' like Tris. Unfortunately the city's new powerbroker, Four's estranged mother Evelyn (Naomi Watts) seems more interested in enacting mob justice on old foes and igniting new feuds with rival groups. She forbids anyone from accepting the invitation to see what lies beyond the city limits. Needless to say this does not stop Tris. Along with a ragtag group of survivors and allies including her hitherto untrustworthy brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort), Christina (Zoë Kravitz) and the ever-snarky-and-shady Peter (Miles Teller), Tris and Four escape over the wall into a post-apocalyptic wasteland in search of hope.
Few young adult fantasy film franchises saw such a rapid decline in popularity as the Divergent series. From the mild fan-base that sprang around Divergent (2014) feelings abruptly shifted into indifference over Insurgent (2015) then eventually outright disdain for Allegiant. So much so rumour has it the concluding installment will switch to television or on-demand, for which star Shailene Woodley expressed little enthusiasm. Through it all, surrounded by bland beefcake and bored big name stars cashing a quick paycheck, the commendable Woodley has been a stalwart lead. Even so, watching Allegiant one gets the impression she is ready to move on. The Divergent series has always suffered from a meandering, unfocused narrative. Allegiant upholds these flaws and coughs up a few new ones but proves mildly more interesting than the last lacklustre sequel by pursuing a fresh path.
Things take a while to get going but the interesting stuff occurs in the first act. Whereas Katniss Everdeen withdrew from public life at the end of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part Two (2015) Tris hangs around to witness the ugly aftermath of revolution: mob justice, rampant paranoia, public executions, bloody retribution, rival factions jostling for power. This fuels the one interesting relationship in the movie, namely the tension between Tris and her brother Caleb who chose the wrong side. Ansel Elgort imbues his remorseful traitor with some humanity and, as in The Fault in Our Stars (2014), share more chemistry with Woodley than the film opts to use. The film also tends to bump off seemingly significant supporting players but these are so under-characters and the leads barely pause for breath let alone mourn the fallen that it is hard to care. Somehow the series keeps contriving excuses to keep the odious Peter around, largely because the plot needs someone to act like a selfish dick. Still it is worth watching just to hear Miles Teller say the word: "gadzooks."
Once Tris and company breach the wall the film shifts into Seventies sci-fi territory, midway between Damnation Alley (1977) and Logan's Run (1976). Some of this proves cheesy sci-fi fun as the characters bumble through a city of super-hi-tech wonders where chief visionary Jeff Daniels trots out a load of scientific malarkey to explain what is going on. The third act livens things up with spaceship chases, laser fights and a race to disable the obligatory doomsday device but also regresses the plot into a video-game. The bulk of Allegiant remains unfocused and episodic. More problematically the plot retracts the series' original ideals and reduces Tris to the unwitting stooge of a crypto-fascist regime. Partly so Four has an excuse to act all sulky and self-righteous while he unearths the dark truth behind their benefactors. The core concept underlining the Divergent series is cannily keyed to a high school mindset: it is cool to be different. In Allegiant however characters repeatedly uphold the faction system everyone was fighting against in the last two movies as the chief means to uphold the peace, implying the characters should settle for a flawed system because it is better than the alternative. Which is a bummer.