'The Divergent Series' sputters in 'Allegiant' (PG-13)

At the end of Insurgent, the previous movie in the dystopian franchise The Divergent Series, the characters trapped in a futuristic, bombed-out Chicago learned they were part of an experiment conducted by people outside their walled-off city. In Allegiant, which should be but isn’t the final installment, they learn who these people are and what they’ve been up to. Not surprisingly, the answer isn’t good.

Based on Veronica Roth’s series of young adult novels, Allegiant — like its predecessors — is a movie you want to like more than you actually do. It’s got a strong protagonist in Tris (Shailene Woodley), raised to be selfless but possessing vast reserves of courage and a fierce sense of justice. She’s confident enough to defy the wishes of de factor leader Evelyn (Naomi Watts), who has taken over in the wake of Insurgent’s revelations. But she’s flexible enough to forgive her brother Caleb (Woodley’s Fault in Our Stars co-star Ansel Elgort) for his betrayal. 

She’s also got excellent taste in men: Her boyfriend is the tough, tender Four (Theo James), Evelyn’s son, who is never threatened by his girlfriend’s supremacy and so handsome Buzzfeed writes about his looks with frightening regularity.

And yet the film moves jerkily, in fits and starts, squandering its promising setup and bogging down in explanation. Allegiant opens with the trials of Erudite faction members who tried to take over in the last film (“trials” being a polite euphemism for executions). Four and Tris bust Caleb out of his prison before he can be shot, round up their pals Christina (Zoe Kravitz), Tori (Maggie Q) and Peter (Miles Teller, the film’s comic relief), and set out to investigate what’s beyond the wall.

What they find is a poisonous landscape of dread and hopelessness, kind of like a Real Housewives reunion show. When they’re intercepted by a group of seemingly helpful sorts and brought back to a low-rent Cloud City, Tris meets David (Jeff Daniels), who appears to be at the top of this particular food chain. Separated from her friends, she learns she is “pure” and everybody else back in Chicago, including Four, is “damaged.” This ominous concept is vague in the extreme: When Tris says she doesn’t really understand what it means, you’re right there with her.

That David is duplicitous comes as no surprise, but what is unexpected is the painful lack of solid action set pieces in the film. There’s some nice business when Tris and Co. break out of Chicago — they run sideways up the wall — and the drones they acquire are a good touch. But the rest of the action — chases resolved easily and the final, predictable rush against time — are unremarkable and full of subpar (if not downright cheesy) special effects.

The rest of the story is due in 2017, when the final film, titled Ascendant, arrives in theaters (Roth’s third book was split into two films, a la The Hunger Games and Harry Potter series). That film will undoubtedly provide the final word on the war between Chicago and the outsiders. Unfortunately, Allegiant doesn’t offer many reasons to be excited about that.

Cast: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Jeff Daniels, Naomi Watts, Olivia Spencer, Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort, Zoe Kravitz.

Director: Robert Schwentke.

Screenwriters: Noah Oppenheim, Adam Cooper, Bill Collage.

A Lionsgate release. Running time: 121 minutes. Intense violence and action, thematic elements, and some partial nudity. Playing at: area theaters.

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