STRETCHING a franchised series seems to be a trend with Hollywood. From Marvel superheroes to Harry Potter to now the young adult sci-fi genre. But, in the case of Veronica Roth’s bestselling book trilogy, Allegiant Part One is just isn’t working.
Based on the first half of the final novel, the story takes up from Insurgent with Tris (played by Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) with brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) as well as friends Peter and Christina (Miles Teller and Zoe Kravitz, respectively) escaping the wall around “Chicago” to find a cure for their society.
So what’s beyond the wall? Now, to get over it is a cool action sequence, with retracting lines that make rappelling and wall-scaling look really fun things to do.
After that comes a red desert, a shoutout to mankind’s destruction of the earth’s resources. Even the rain bleeds blood!
The quartet is rescued by the people who have been watching Tris’ challenge in Chicago. At the base station, the Bureau of Genetic Welfare, Tris is told by leader David (Jeff Daniels) that she is the only pure one left on earth. Everyone else is “damaged”, she is told.
The “Chicago” Tris knows is all a reality show, so Peter and Caleb are now given the jobs to monitor what’s going on there.
The “damaged” Four is taken up by “missions to the Fringe”, where the tent people flee from the good Providence lot who kidnap children. Why? I guess that part comes clear in Part Two, called Ascendant. Maybe to find more “pure” people like Tris who don’t fall into any faction category.
Four realises David is more evil than good, and finally Tris gets that too. So, instead of helping recreate more “pure” people (not with sex, ahem), she chooses to help “Chicago” and goes back.
Kate Winslet’s Jeanine character is dead but Naomi Watts takes over as Evelyn, and nothing seems to have changed for that particular character.
Despite all her running, wall-climbing, and cool outfit changes, Tris has time to deliver a monologue against the faction system and for equality and acceptance. It falls on the ears like a whimper more than a clarion call.
This non-conforming heroine is being destroyed by cinema. In the books, she stays strong in her role of saving people. In the movie, too many love scenes seem to be sapping away her energy, I feel.
In fact, when Tris realises David plans to wipe out the memories of her Chicago people with a memory serum gas, in the book, she dies and so does David. Not in the movie.
About the most interesting things in this movie are the high-tech gizmos. People don’t fly in planes but in free-floating bubbles that are linked to a helicopter-looking pod.
Then there these drones that can seek out information and targets, with finger commands.
You can replay memories with a virtual-reality earbuds which accesses memory tabs, which is how Tris learns about her birth and her own mother’s life.
The book is a thought-provoking view of today’s world. But the movie, with Four getting super-action hero powers to boot, makes it a little ridiculous. It’s a fun watch, skirting dystopian world issues rather than delving into them. Since the movie ends with a cliffhanger, it whets some appetite to find out who exactly is the Ascendant.
** this review appeared in the New Straits Times