In 2015, when I began writing reviews for the first time, I put out a pair of quick looks into Divergent and Insurgent as one of my first reviews. A year later, The Divergent Series: Allegiant was released, and while I thought each film got better, their returns did not reflect this. In the 2010s, a trend began with the final adaptation of the Harry Potter series – scraping every last cent from a loyal fanbase as was humanly possible. So, they began to split the final entries of the successful series into two-part finales. While this is by no means a new thing, it became the go-to solution for a list of successful franchises to this day (Mission Impossible and The Fast and the Furious are set to end their long runs with two-part finales released a year apart from one another). Allegiant is a warning to those who overestimate their potential success – or just their future existence. Sometimes, you don’t get to finish your film series, as was the case for The Divergent Series.
While the final film, Ascendant, was not actually made, it only had a small amount of story left to tell – with readers split on whether or not it was a good ending. Although it was the logical ending thematically, that doesn’t mean it’s the ending readers want. However, as a result of making the film with the intention of splitting it into two films, Allegiant was able to shuffle around some plot details, excise others, and introduce even more in order to tell a cohesive narrative. Adapting a book is never the easiest task, especially when most of the work is told through the thoughts or observations of one character. Allegiant was no easier than any other adaptation, but it at least had the entire book series released before it had attempted to tackle its ultimately unintended, final outing. Game of Thrones still sours many people.
Shailene Woodley returned to play Tris alongside Four (Theo James), Peter (Miles Teller), Caleb (Ansel Elgort), Christina (Zoë Kravitz), and Tori (Maggie Q). Jeanine (played by Kate Winslet in the preceding two films) was successfully ousted during the titular insurgency of the second film – with her even dying at the hands of Evelyn (Naomi Watts) – otherwise known as Four’s mother. With Jeanine dead, Evelyn would take iron-fisted control over Chicago, including locking down the gates that would lead to the people’s freedom in the outside world.
The Factionless almost immediately break down the societal norms that the five Factions have only started to question, only to drive themselves straight into the camp known as authoritarianism. Octavia Spencer returns as the now former leader of Amity, Johanna, who is against Evelyn’s new brand of Jeanine-style rule, while Jack Kang (Daniel Dae Kim) is the now former leader of Candor, all too eager to put behind him his attempt at neutrality between Jeanine and the other Factions, by throwing his lot in with Evelyn. Even as the truth of their society is exposed to them, they are still the flawed individuals they were before the truth was revealed. This leads them to make some of the same close-minded decisions they clung to in the past. That has always been at the core of Divergent – a choice is to be made, but not making a choice is still making one.
I have read other people’s breakdowns and analyses of this series, pointing out that certain plot points could have been handled better if they had been allowed to “bake” more. The most noticeable point came from Divergent itself, where members of the Dauntless faction were mind controlled into becoming the minions and enforcers of Jeanine’s efforts to eradicate the other factions. It was pointed out that the story could have taken the more dangerous path of having several dozen members, if not hundreds, of Dauntless siding with Jeanine for one reason or another – fear, pragmatism, and even loyalty. Mind control was the shortcut taken to make the plot happen the way the author wanted it to. I’m no stranger to plot contrivances, and obviously, many plot points in film, television, and books can be considered contrived if one takes the time to think through other potential solutions after the fact. However, the world that The Divergent Series existed in, at least for me, was one where mind control made more sense than willingly working with Jeanine. Mind control, unlike loyalty, means that the choice has been taken from you. That was the entire point of this series: the importance of choice.
While several actors along the previously named also returned – including Mekhi Phifer, Keiynan Lonsdale, and Jonny Weston as Max, Uriah, and Edgar respectively – the newcomers have more time to shine. Chief among them is Matthew (Bill Skarsgård) who, at times, it is unclear if he is meant to be seen as a potential love interest to Tris or not. Obviously, this is not the case in the grand scheme of things – with him being used by David (Jeff Daniels in an interestingly manipulative villainous role). In addition, Nita (Nadia Hilker) is introduced as an ally to Four, introducing him to how their ground forces operate, but her biggest contribution to the story (secretly organizing a rebellion in order to protect the genetically damaged, like she herself is) is excised from the film in favor of newly created subplots. Essentially, aside from David, these characters exist to prop up the main character’s storylines. How well that works out is up for debate – I try to view film adaptations as their own entities. It makes it easier to accept changes, big or small.
Several characters, most notably Christina and Tori, are not really given much to do this time around – not that either was given much to do in the previous entries, mind you. Allegiant could have benefited from the friendship between Tris and Christina, somewhat still strained from the death of Christina’s love interest in the first film at the hands of Tris – he was mind controlled, remember? When it comes to Tori, I was hopeful that she was finally going to show off what it meant to be a character played by the legendary, action-oriented Maggie Q – my disappointment was immeasurable. The Divergent Series focuses on family almost as much as it does choice, to the point where the concepts are intimately intertwined. What family is more important – the one you are born into or the one you chose. “Faction over family” is a mantra in this world, and Tris’ questioning of this is woven into the plot many times. She insists on saving her brother, even when doing so could cost her and her allies. Tris refuses to choose any faction over her family, whether it be family by blood or by choice. At the other end, you can always count on Peter to betray whichever side he is currently on like clockwork.
Allegiant is the first, and now only, entry in the series to take place outside the ruined city of Chicago, only to prove that it was almost no better outside of the walls encircling their dystopian city. Sure, the technology of the Bureau of Genetic Welfare is advanced to an insane degree, especially when compared to what the Chicago factions have been using, but it is little more than a glittering cage. Allegiant makes sure to draw parallels between the Bureau and Chicago, with each giving the illusion of freedom while strictly regulating what a person can do based on their skills and overall usefulness to those in leadership. The people who ultimately set up the test that Chicago, and the other cities like it, don’t even think it worth their effort to offer aid to those now under the tyrannical rule of Evelyn. It doesn’t matter which side of the wall you were born on in this world – rigid structure and class politics are the defining features of what remains of Earth.
The Divergent Series tried, and ultimately failed, to tell a complete story. The book series it was based on had a conclusion, but the film series would end on a rather unsatisfying note – with hints of the future conflict we would never see laced into the final frame. Whether the film series would have followed the same beats as the books is unclear. Allegiant made it abundantly clear that the studio was willing to alter the meat of the story to expand it into two films. Ascendant could have drastically altered the storyline while somehow managing to wend its way to the same conclusion. Unfortunately, their ambitions were cut short, and the entire cast more or less bailed on the idea of completing the project when it became evident that, instead of a theatrical release, it would be made into a tv-film at best.
With the way their careers have gone in the last seven years, it’s highly unlikely that Ascendant would have helped them when they were so clearly capable of helping themselves.