Whether you like it or not, Allegiant welcomes you back to the bombed-out Chicago of the future and the rest of the Divergent universe. Evelyn (Naomi Watts) has taken control of the Windy City in the wake of the discovery that the metropolis is a huge experiment conducted by the powers-that-be, who exist somewhere on the other side of their walled society. She's gone mad with power, reinforcing the walls and pushing the city to the brink of civil war. Tris (Shailene Woodley) and her beau Four (Theo James) lead a band of rebels as they escape from Chicago and seek out the truth on the other side. They encounter the technologically superior Bureau of Genetic Welfare, whose director, a man named David (Jeff Daniels), implemented the Chicago experiment as a test to see if humanity could repair its damaged genetic makeup. Tris is hailed as the first successful test case of that trial - her status as "divergent" is proof that humanity can endure a planet Earth where most life has gone extinct (this is all explained via a convenient video presentation). But as Tris, Four, Peter (Miles Teller), Caleb (Ansel Elgort), and Christina (Zoë Kravitz) all hang out in the Bureau, Chicago verges on total destruction as events spiral out of control. Meanwhile, David has his own sinister designs for humanity, and the gang soon realize that the Bureau isn't what they originally thought. They attempt to flee back to their home city to unite the factions for a war against David.
If all of this sounds absurd, that's because it is. The third entry in the Divergent series arrives with barely a whimper; no longer able to skate by on the charisma of its cast, it's finally buckling under the weight of its ridiculous postapocalyptic premise. But Allegiant suffers most of all from its cavalcade of plot threads. There are so many incidents involving in-fighting, outside agitators, and cartoonish technology that any attempt at creating a cohesive overall story is lost in the shuffle. The flick is so overstuffed that the dialogue is reduced to endless exposition: The screenwriters were obviously convinced that the only way to keep moviegoers in the loop regarding the sheer multitude of plot developments was to have the characters just plainly say them aloud. Pair that with some truly third-rate special effects and you've got a recipe for a dreadful sequel.
The aforementioned talented cast -- the only thing keeping this franchise treading water -- look lost at sea. Woodley grappled with her decisions and responsibilities in a believable manner in the previous two films, but Allegiant offers her few opportunities to dramatize her character's dilemma. We're repeatedly told that Tris is the savior of both Chicago and humanity in general, but she's willfully blind to David's malevolent intentions until it's almost too late. Viewers are eventually presented with a ham-fisted argument against genetic engineering, the climax of which is Tris delivering a variation on "can't we all just get along, man?" Woodley is a promising young talent, and it's a shame that returning director Robert Schwentke has given her such a drab, archetypal role to play.
Meanwhile, it's almost as if Miles Teller is purposely trying to erase any goodwill the public felt towards him after Whiplash with his sniveling character in this series and his equally blood-boiling turn in last year's disastrous Fantastic Four. His Peter is unnecessary for three-fourths of the film, existing only to provide frat-boy "jokes" until he chooses a devious undertaking during the last act. The addition of Jeff Daniels as basically a moustache-twiddling head honcho goes over just about as well as you'd expect: One can only imagine him showing up on set each day, letting out a deep sigh, and repeating his lines about the "damaged" and "pure" human beings of the twisted Chicago experiment. Sometimes paycheck acting shines right through the silver screen.
Following the (wholly unnecessary) model of previous young-adult adaptations like Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games, the final book of the Divergent series was split into two movies: this misfire and next year's Ascendant. Tris and Four will fight the Bureau of Genetic Welfare to the bitter end in that upcoming snoozer, at which point we'll have finally won the war against this franchise -- and hopefully be on the verge of defeating the YA genre for the good of mankind.