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Mediocre 'Allegiant' drags Divergent series out into an obligatory two-part finale
Jack Kang (Daniel Dae Kim, left) and Max (Mekhi Phifer, right) in The Divergent Series: Allegiant." - photo by Josh Terry
"THE DIVERGENT SERIES: ALLEGIANT" 2 stars Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer; PG-13 (intense violence and action, thematic elements and some partial nudity); in general release

Allegiant is about what youd expect from the third movie in a franchise. It has a few nice moments but feels more like an exercise in extending a narrative than a vehicle for building a dramatic conclusion.

Director Robert Schwentkes film returns audiences to the world of author Veronica Roths young adult Divergent series, which started out as a metaphor for the dynamics of human nature. Allegiant is the adaptation of the first half of the final book in the series, following in yet another hallowed YA tradition.

The story picks up in the aftermath of 2015s Insurgent, which saw lead heroine Tris (Shailene Woodley) lead the overthrow of the evil Jeanine (Kate Winslet) and her oppressive Erudite regime. After spending two films in a walled-in Chicago, a message finally comes from the outside: Your factioned world was merely a test, and now it is time to join the rest of civilization outside the wall.

Unfortunately, you can lead your guinea pigs to water, but you cant make them drink. The fall of the Erudite regime left a power vacuum, and two parties are rushing to fill it. One is led by Evelyn (Naomi Watts), leader of the factionless insurgency that masterminded the revolution. Her opposition is led by Johanna (Octavia Spencer), leader of a new group calling themselves Allegiant.

Evelyn is suspicious of the outside world, and puts Chicago on lockdown while she can figure things out. Figuring things out also involves a few hasty public trials and executions for Erudite war criminals.

But Tris is determined to get outside the wall, so she teams up her boyfriend Four (Evelyns son, played by Theo James), her turncoat brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and the similarly untrustworthy Peter (Miles Teller) to make a run on Evelyns defenses.

When they get outside the wall, they find an even nastier post-apocalyptic wasteland that resembles something like what Yellowstone National Park would look like on Mars. They also find a highly advanced group of humans led by a man named David (Jeff Daniels) who seem to have been in charge of the Chicago experiment.

The entire effort seems designed to expand the Divergent universe, but all it really does is exchange one oppressive regime for another. David works for an organization called The Bureau of Genetic Welfare, and even without having seen the trailer which pretty much gives away Allegiants entire plot its pretty obvious that his intentions are suspect. From here, Allegiant plays out a preliminary conflict that draws the battle lines for next years fourth and final installment.

Its almost too easy to criticize Allegiant as the poor mans version of The Hunger Games or list off the easy YA clichs it mines along the way. Fans of the series might enjoy seeing the next installment play out on the screen, but objective viewers will still see a lumbering plot, lazy exposition and characters that just arent that engaging.

But the biggest criticism that comes from watching Allegiant is the persistent sacrifice of story on behalf of quantity. Like many young adult novels, the first Divergent had an interesting central concept. But pushing each series into more and more installments eventually leads to the same, well-trod destination where no one has anything original to say.

As for Allegiant, it could have made up for a multitude of sins if it were a little less dull. And franchise gripes aside, thats the films biggest problem.

"Allegiant" is rated PG-13 for intense violence and action, thematic elements and some partial nudity; running time: 121 minutes.
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