Book-To-Film Friday: “Allegiant” diverges from novel…

…and not in a good way.

Allegiant, the third film in the Divergent series based on the trilogy by Veronica Roth, and part one of a two-part adaption, hit theaters for an early release last night (Thursday). The following review is spoiler-free.

Like many Divergent book series fans, I was not happy with the way things played out in the Allegiant novel’s storyline. I came into the theater hopeful that some productive changes were made in the plot, but it fell short of admittedly low expectations.

As far as character, Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Tobias (Theo James) fall flat. Their chemistry is better than it was in the first two films, but both Shailene and Theo seem disengaged. As Tris herself becomes more significant in relation to the rest of the world, her relatable qualities dwindle. Tobias’ character improves from previous films, as he reacts to certain revelations and opens up emotionally, but his stoic nature adversely affects his performance. Most supporting characters are easily forgettable, or poorly introduced, and sustain little emotional connection to the audience. The exception is Peter, played by Miles Teller, which is a testament to Miles’ acting ability and Peter’s dynamic character.

miles.jpg

What the film lacks in character development, it doesn’t make up in plot. Blatant exposition overshadows the shock-value of the Bureau, and “hidden” agendas can be seen from a mile away. With a 121 minute runtime, it should have paced well, but it drags on in certain areas.

While strong SFX and VFX help the film as a whole, the visual effects were sometimes laughable. I had to hold back a few giggles as Tris and Friends were surrounded by bubbles a la Glinda the Good Witch and carried off to the Bureau of Genetic Welfare. It came across as childish, rather than futuristic.

And for all you fans of the books: beware, yet again, that Uriah is pushed-not just to the sidelines-but to the nosebleed seats at the back of the stadium. He can be seen as Johanna’s (Octavia Spencer) right-hand man in a few shots, but for a fan-favorite character so integral to the novels, it’s disappointing to see such minor involvement of his role. At the same time, Matthew, who is described in the books as Asian, is played by Bill Skarsgård, who looks like a young German during World War II.

Bill Skarsgard as Matthew in ‘Allegiant’

The YA genre has been criticized for it’s lack of people of color, but even when characters exist in the books, they are glossed over, or whitewashed, in the film adaptions. Tobias’ mother Evelyn (Naomi Watts), is explicitly a person of color in the books, but with Naomi Watts’ portrayal, that is lost along with Tobias’ identity as mixed race.

Naomi Watts as Evelyn in ‘Allegiant.’ Book’s description of Evelyn: “curly black hair, olive skin, and stern, angular features.”

Although recasting Evelyn would be confusing at this point, Uriah should have gotten the screen time he deserved. In the book, he escapes with Tris over the city wall, and becomes somewhat of a love interest for Christina. This change wouldn’t have dramatically changed the existing movie plot, but it would have given justice to Uriah’s character when he’s been so poorly represented in the films.

Allegiant, like many recent YA adaptions since Potter, is split into two films. Instead of a “Part 1” and “Part 2,” the people with the corner offices decided to name the fourth film Ascendant. This has caused some confusion with casual movie-goers, as they expected Allegiant to be the final installment. As the audience walked out of the theater, distressed fans could be heard questioning the ending of what they thought was the last film in the Divergent franchise. Ascendant is set for release on June 9, 2017, from Insurgent and Allegiant director Robert Schwentke.

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