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domingo, 13 de março de 2016
The Divergent Series: Allegiant review: 'all the pep of a funeral'
Veronica Roth's dystopian sci-fi franchise trundles on with conspiracy theory ravings, Mad Max landscapes, and a tragically underused Shailene Woodley
“Jeanine is dead!” purrs Allegiant’s opening voiceover. It’s nice to see a young-adult franchise on such breezy first-name terms with its super-villains, and in the otherwise tranquilisingly stale Divergent Series, it’s one of a very few authentically weird details to stick out.
So, after having seen off the chicly tailored would-be dictator Jeanine (Kate Winslet) in last year’s Insurgent– think Oppression, by Calvin Klein – now Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) must lock horns with the fearsome Evelyn, and later, the even more terrifying David. Perhaps in next year’s concluding chapter, Ascendant, she’ll find out the conspiracy stretches all the way to Keith.
This latest episode is adapted from the first bit of the last book in Veronica Roth’s science-fiction series, à la static Part Ones past, including Harry Potter’s Deathly Hallows and The Hunger Games’s Mockingjay. The opening scenes, set on dankly lit, subterranean gantries, make you fear the worst, but the story soon gathers pace as Tris and her hot young freedom-fighting squad, flee the ruins of future Chicago and clamber over its ramparts to reach the acid-charred wasteland beyond.
The escape itself is energetic and just loopy enough – imagine the wall-climbing scenes from the 1960s Batman TV series seasoned with a little post-apocalyptic vehicular pursuit by a goon squad dispatched by Evelyn (Naomi Watts), the ambitious leader of the rebel forces.
“Holy s___, what happened here?” Tris and her team gasp while gazing across the toxic desert. (The most plausible answer is: ’The production designer saw Mad Max: Fury Road’.) “This all looks radioactive,” says Caleb (Ansel Elgort), nodding unhappily at a red puddle.
It’s looking like a frying-pan-to-fire kind of journey until – happy day! – the escapees are rescued by the not-at-all-ominously named ‘Bureau of Genetic Welfare’, who spirit them to their desert fortress, where David (Jeff Daniels) welcomes Tris into his glassy penthouse with a crocodilian smile.
Here David patiently explains to Tris – and us – exactly what’s been going on in Chicago and where precisely she fits in. The words "chosen" and "one" aren’t actually spoken, but you get the general idea.
Like the earlier Divergent films, Allegiant is studded with enticing science-fiction ideas, but it keeps such a poker-straight face while presenting them, you often can’t help but crack up. We see Tris bob across the desert in a beige bubble and shower in latex goo – potentially fun ideas that are presented with all the bounce and pep of a state funeral. Miles Teller’s Peter, the Edmund Pevensie of the gang, is notionally there to puncture the tension with sarcastic quips, but he does it so mechanically, they only add to the gloom.
Meanwhile, you can feel the gears crunching under your seat as the franchise abandons its earlier conceit – that society has been sorted into Krypton Factor-style categories with names like Dauntless, Amity and Candour – for a saucer-eyed Big Pharma conspiracy. The Bureau of Genetic Welfare’s technological capabilities vary as required by the shambolic plot: ordinarily, security checkpoints are bypassed with wrist implants, but happily when it comes to one of the most important doors in the film, a humble swipe-card will do.
And let’s not get into the virtual-reality surveillance system – admittedly beautifully realised, like a David Hockney Polaroid collage come to life – which allows characters to eavesdrop on, or even stroll through, any private encounter in any corner of the entire city of Chicago. Where The Hunger Games series gave young cinema-goers traded in coruscating, call-to-arms political allegory, Allegiant feels like the ravings of a conspiracy theorist with a $50 million effects budget.
What’s made the Divergent Series so galling to date is that its cast are blatantly capable of so much more: particularly Woodley, who’s a plausible and enormously watchable young action heroine with the steely spine of a young Sigourney Weaver, but can also play subtle and internalised in a way that makes you crane in. (As I say every time a Divergent film comes out, Gregg Araki’s elliptical, seductive melodrama White Bird in a Blizzard remains the best showcase of her talent to date.)
Even Tris’s love interest Four (Theo James), a James Franco lookalike with a thousand-yard pout, could be charming if the film just embraced his heart-throbbiness and ran with it. But Allegiant feels twitchily uncomfortable in its own skin. It’s the pine needles in your socks of young-adult franchises.