The following contains spoilers for ‘The Divergent Series: Allegiant’. You have been warned.
Up until now, I would have gone to my grave defending The Divergent Series as one of the most underrated young adult adaptations. The first two films based on the Veronica Roth series, Divergent and Insurgent, are grounded in philosophy about politics, war, and the human fundamentals that make us who we are. Because of this, they were never just teen romances, or action films, or post-apocalyptic dribble, but uniquely their own intelligent study on the human condition. Now enter Allegiant, an adaptation that barely resembles its original story by Roth, virtually stripped of its philosophies and sanded down into a caricature of its genre. Countless changes were made from book to screen, many of which did an ultimate injustice to the film’s outcome – these differences will be explored in the list below:
Who are The Allegiant?
Film: The answer that the movie gives to this question is extremely vague. All the audience knows is that former Amity leader Johanna (Octavia Spencer) along with some former Dauntless members have banded together to defy Evelyn (Naomi Watts) and her posse of factionless and former Candor members. It is only toward the latter half of the two hours that we even hear them referred to as The Allegiant and are never told what they stand for aside from their resistance to Evelyn’s iron rule.
Book: The novel clearly sets up The Allegiant early on as those who want to return to the faction system, its structure, and the relative peace it provided prior to Jeanine’s abuse of power. There is even a time in the beginning that Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Tobias (Theo James) are members and use the group’s help to escape the city. Their mission statement gave the civil unrest in the plot a philosophical backstory rather than just a rabble-rousing aggressive resistance.
“Welcome to the Future”
Film: This is what David (Jeff Daniels), the leader of the Bureau of Genetic Welfare, tells Tris, Tobias, and friends when they first encounter that elaborate system of life outside the walls. The film places heavy focus on the future, introducing new gadgets like flying plasma bubbles, pods, and mobile target seekers for firearms. This advent of the future into the series makes Allegiant highly focused on the flashy aspects of science fiction rather than the characters and the story that the audience has been following thus far.
Book: In terms of technological progress, The Bureau of Genetic Welfare is housed in a world equivalent to the one that Tris and Tobias have left behind in the post-apocalyptic Chicago, the only difference being that the Bureau is aware of its pre-apocalypse history. This calls into question the failed progress of the Bureau’s experiments with the factions and rather a possible repeating of history.
Film: As Tris and Tobias delve deeper into the Bureau, it comes to look more and more like the damaged society that they thought they had escaped. Everyone is divided into roles within the compound, with a clear hierarchy of genetically valuable people. While this seems like satisfying narrative structure on the screenwriters’ parts, it ultimately works to simplify and dumb down human nature on both sides. One interesting result of this mirroring, however, is the way in which Tris starts to visually resemble Jeanine as she climbs the ranks within the Bureau. The film begins to go somewhere interesting with the idea of power corruption and the tearing down of the “genetically pure” ideal, but unfortunately, that small parallel is soon forgotten.
Book: The line between the societies is much more blurred within the novel. In some ways the Bureau is a safe haven from the rigid oppression of the factions. Everyone at the Bureau is treated fairly on the surface, while the motives of the experiments and David’s behind-the-scenes dealings are insidious rather than black-and-white evil or oppressive.
The Creation of a Utopia
Film: The audience is somewhat introduced to “Providence”, the Utopian society made up of the genetically pure that is funding the Bureau of Genetic Welfare and its experiments with the faction society. We are made to believe that there is a futuristic (Tomorrowland-esque) place in which the genetically pure have built a functioning Paradise-like world. We only get a few mentions of Providence from David and a short glimpse of it toward the end of the film, which likely means that it will play a larger role in Ascendent, but for the purposes of Allegiant, it acts as a diversion from the plot and pulls focus from the fight to save their city.
Book: Providence does not exist at all. What does exist, however, is a series of experiments in most of the metropolitan areas of what used to be the United States, rather than just one in Chicago. Where Providence adds a fantasy element to the story, the book does better in reigning in the more “human” aspects of these societies and grounding the story in reality.
Capital ‘V’ Villainy
Film: The movie really does not beat around the bush in terms of naming its villains. David is a caricature of malevolence. He separates Tris and Tobias immediately, begins to brainwash Tris, has built a system based on violence, oppression, and sacrificing others and – icing on top of the cake – he huffs a hokey “NOOOOO!” when events don’t go his way. David’s eventual lackey, Peter (Miles Teller), is the typical wicked comic relief. Allegiant undoes all of Insurgent’s hard work in making Peter a bad guy with the semblance of a moral compass. This time around he is simply there to crack jokes and get in everyone’s way, including his own. In the very least, audiences get to see more of Teller and his commendable effort to keep Peter as the guy you love to hate.
Book: Unlike the film, David is more of a quiet leader. He is unassuming and therefore more believable as a potential mentor to Tris. He also has an emotional backstory with Tris’ mother, creating an empathy for the character and his motivations. As for Peter, he is essentially a background character in the third book. He makes friends with Tris’ brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort), the other outcast in the group, and offers little quips and witticisms whenever the moment calls for them. While an increased role for Peter in the film means more screen time for Teller, it ends up being the detriment to the overall character.
Lights, Camera, ACTION!
Film: Allegiant puts a huge emphasis on its action and special effects. The stunts are next level (case in point: the scaling of the wall scene) and the heroism of Tris and company is taken much more literally than in the book. The film devotes more run-time to war, elevated stunts, and training/action scenes than it does to the struggle of ideas and ideologies, which is the basis of the original story. Whereas Divergent and Insurgent used action and special effects to tell an emotional story of the fears and guilt that plague the human condition, Allegiant makes it simply a tool for awe.
Book: We spend a lot more time in corridors, meeting rooms, and Tris’ head as she and the rest of the characters attempt to navigate human nature and the corruption of power. Tris and Tobias still pick up guns here and there, but not solely for the sake of action.
What do all of these major changes have to say about the film as a whole? With new emphases on sci-fi, action, and hyperbolic villainy, Allegiant turns away from its predecessors’ layered and complex stories of flawed human nature, the varied personalities and equal roles that make up a functional society, the ethics of war and heroism, as well as the ultimate strength of family, friends and relationships of all kinds. What becomes clear by the end of Allegiant is the attempt by the filmmakers and probably the studio to pander to the expectations of the post-apocalyptic genre. It’s as if they believe that the YA audience won’t show up to the theaters unless there is something to catch their eye and hold their attention. As a result, the creative team of director Robert Schwentke, and adaptive screenwriters Noah Oppenheim, Adam Cooper, and Bill Collage, constructed their own incongruous story and seem to have left a dangerously blank slate for Ascendent, the series’ upcoming final installment.