1.5 stars (out of 4)
It’s deep, deep, deep, deep into the future, and Armageddon has arrived. A small population later emerges from the ashes and manages to salvage artifacts from human history.
This movie better not represent what 21st century cinema had to offer.
Plodding, ludicrous and, at times, undecipherable, this post-apocalyptic drama — the third film of the Divergent series — is a disaster in every sense of the word. No chance it will entice newbies, while even the franchise’s most ardent fans will likely find it a half-baked slog. (That is, when they’re not bellyaching over its wild veering from novelist Veronica Roth's source material.)
Anyway, where were we? Oh, right. Dystopian Chicago. Thanks to Divergent/Rebel With a Cause/Chosen One/Super-Special Girl Tris (Shailene Woodley), the mandated five factions (Erudite, Abnegation, Candor, Dauntless, Amity) within the city are now dissolved. The government has been overthrown. Evil Jeanine (Kate Winslet) is deader than President Snow. But the civilization remains at an unrest as new leader Evelyn (Naomi Watts) sets out to kill everyone associated with the powerful Erudite faction.
Tris and her love, Four (Theo James), want none of that. So, along with her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort), smarmy sometimes-foe Peter (lone bright spot Miles Teller) and friend Christina (Zoe Kravitz), they scale the wall that surrounds Chicago to explore the other side. They’re soon rescued and escorted to a shiny, pointy headquarters. “We're gonna be OK!” Tris assures Four en route.
This proclamation can only mean two things: 1. They are most certainly not OK. 2. Act 1 is finally over. One down, two to go.
The group turns up at the Bureau of Genetic Welfare (formerly Chicago's O'Hare Airport), where commander David (Jeff Daniels) wades through even more exposition. It turns out the faction project is merely a giant experiment under constant surveillance. But there are now obvious cracks in the system. Tris is “pure” and everyone else is “damaged,” so David seeks her help in purifying the population. Maybe. The message is muddled, though it's no spoiler to reveal that his true plan is significantly more nefarious.
The plotting might have been crafted in a celluloid YA postapocalyptic laboratory. Here you’ll find the small antiestablishment movement taking action (The Hunger Games), star-crossed love story (Hunger Games again), a curious, grand case study (The Maze Runner) and, because why not, a defiant journey across a desert landscape (Mad Max: Fury Road). Only this flick is the low-rent version of all of the above. And a nonstop barrage of explosions and CGI’ed special effects can’t mask its very real problems.
Woodley still lacks the acting gravitas to lead a revolution. It doesn’t matter that she chopped the ponytail and added highlights to her hair; she’s just not credible in the role. Her Tris has gone from kick-ass heroine to gullible bore, and her ability to suddenly develop the skills to pilot a state-of-the-art aircraft late in the game is laughable.
Meanwhile, she and brooding-to-a-fault James continue to flail at pretending they're in love with each other. (How peculiar that two of Woodley’s most indelible onscreen loves, Teller and Elgort, appear in this franchise). Yet perhaps it’s not fair for young Woodley to shoulder the blame. After all, respected thespians Watts, Daniels and Octavia Spencer phone it in onscreen while presumably collecting sizable paychecks off it.
Let’s be Candor: This franchise is tumbling downhill at an alarming speed. The first outing, 2014’s Divergent, was a genuinely cool and wily kick-starter. But each subsequent installment has failed miserably. (Lest we forget, last year’s Insurgent sequel revolved around Tris’ ability to open a box!).
Splitting a book in two didn’t work for a top-tier project like The Hunger Games: Mockingjay and comes off like even more of a tedious, desperate money grab here. There’s still one more chapter to go — and how fitting that the last line of this film is a loud, emphatic “No!”
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