Talk about damning with faint praise: "Allegiant" is an improvement upon its immediate predecessor but still manages to give off the odor of not leading anywhere remotely special. This is the first step toward the actual ending of the series that began with 2014's "Divergent," a comfortably mediocre inaugural installment that defined in just under a too-lengthy two-and-a-half hours the dystopic version of Chicago's rules and muddy politics, and continued with 2015's "Insurgent," which, one may remember, clarified the ideas of the saga to be the actions of a civilization of people acting like a bunch of children. At least there is some degree of justification with this newest film in the franchise, but then the question becomes do we care.

There isn't much reason to, it turns out. Yes, we pick up exactly where the previous film left off. A dictatorial leader, whose voice narrates the "shocking revelation" (read: insulting appeasement of the masses) that was made known at the end of "Insurgent," is dead. Evelyn (Naomi Watts), who pulled the literal trigger followed by a figurative one of revolution, is now in place as the Factions that previously existed are now abolished. The problem is that the shift is too sudden either to seem like it would even be a workable model or to be betrayed believably later on. All of the intended drama here feels false as a result, such as the fact that Four (Theo James), son of Evelyn and lover of our protagonist, would rally at once to approach his mother about a regime of her own that is unfair (executions of all who served the old guard).

One of those to be executed is Caleb (Ansel Elgort), brother of our heroine Tris (Shailene Woodley), who still feels resentful toward a brother who betrayed her but coordinates his rescue all the same. Alongside Peter (Miles Teller), whose status as a possible turncoat is really getting annoying (and the actor's performance betrays this fact by simply being a series of mugging wisecracks), they journey to the other side of the fence that protects the decimated Chicago from apparent radiation. What they find is a deceptive utopia, run by a director named David (Jeff Daniels, cashing a paycheck), that has been monitoring the Chicago experiment for decades and come to the realization that they can actually direct the human genome to result in a "pure" human.

That, of course, raises about a billion questions, the answers to which the screenplay by Noah Oppenheim, Adam Cooper, and Bill Collage (working from part of the novel by Veronica Roth) is not interested in resolving. "Why direct the human genome in such a way that offers a choice of perfection or imperfection in a society built upon a class structure that favors those with purer genes than those with damaged ones," might be the most significant one, but it is ultimately of no consequence. "Allegiant" exists for action sequences (competently staged by director Robert Schwentke and made colorfully drab by way of unfortunate visual effects), such as a climactic chase or a clever bit in which the heroes must run up a wall with great agility, and a lead-in to the final installment that could not feel like a cheaper cliffhanger if it tried.

Film Information

Shailene Woodley (Tris), Theo James (Four), Ansel Elgort (Caleb), Miles Teller (Peter), Jeff Daniels (David), Naomi Watts (Evelyn), Nadia Hilker (Nita), Bill Skarsgard (Matthew), Zoe Kravitz (Christina), Octavia Spencer (Johanna), Jonny Weston (Edgar), Keiynan Lonsdale (Uriah), Maggie Q (Tori), Daniel Dae Kim (Jack).

Directed by Robert Schwentke and written by Noah Oppenheim, Adam Cooper, and Bill Collage, based in part on the novel by Veronica Roth.

Rated PG-13 (intense violence/action, thematic elements, partial nudity).

121 minutes.

Released on March 18, 2016.

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