Allegiant is the third film in the series that launched two years ago with Divergent, continued last year with Insurgent, and will conclude next year with Ascendant. That may have once come as a surprise to fans of Veronica Roth’s books, since there is no fourth volume with that name, but continuing a Hollywood tradition with several recent adaptations of young adult series, the last book in this particular trilogy has been sliced in half and made into two movies - although unlike other franchises, the two in this case were not filmed back to back (Ascendant goes in front of the cameras sometime a little later this year for release in June 2017).
"The movies we didn't want to make were those annoying ones in which they just stop in the middle of the story,” said producer Douglas Wick at the film’s recent press day. “So we very much wanted the movie to work as a separate piece. In the book, there just happens to be a huge amount of story and there are two climaxes. So as we talked to a bunch of different writers about what seemed to be the natural separation, those two sort of made themselves clear and it seemed like there was plenty of stuff for a movie."
Allegiant finds our small band of heroes - led by Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) - emerging from the collapse of the post-apocalyptic “faction” society that has been led until now by the late, sinister Jeannine (Kate Winslet). With Chicago now divided between two groups (one led by Naomi Watts, the other by Octavia Spencer), an enigmatic message delivered to Tris at the end of Insurgent suggests that a different and better society exists outside the Wall surrounding Chicago and across the Fringe, the radioactive wasteland that stretches in all directions.
Tris, Four and friends (including returning players Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort and Zoe Kravitz) climb over the Wall, cross the red, blasted Fringe and find that society: a sleek, gleaming city headed by Jeff Daniels, who is also in charge of the social experiment that gave Chicago its factions. He also has a secret agenda as well as plans for Tris, who begins to realize that what’s outside the Wall may not necessarily be better than what they left behind.
Allegiant is bigger in scope and references a lot more pulp sci-fi than its predecessors, adding a lot of new imagery as well under the direction of Robert Schwentke, back for his second turn at bat after Insurgent. Also at the press day, Shailene Woodley noted that this movie was much more visual effects-heavy than the two previous ones. “We had so many special effects,” she said. “We didn't know what the movie was going to look like…I guess this movie felt more like a game of trust than the other movies did -- trust in the director, trust in the special effects coordinators, trust in the producers, because we as the actors filmed about 50 percent of it and the other 50 percent was completed in post."
For Woodley, the expansion of the novel into two films meant that some of the other characters got a little more to do onscreen, giving her a little bit of a break after working non-stop throughout the first two movies. "It’s so nice because I remember on Divergent, I felt like I missed out on so much with all of the other actors,” she recalled. “We'd go to work and they'd be like, 'Oh, last night we went to this place for dinner' or 'we went to this bar,' and I was like, 'Cool, guys, I was working.' On Divergent we had like 13 actors who would all hang out constantly. Everyone would go here and there, and I would be working. So it was nice on this movie to have a little breathing room and really just connect with everyone."
"We fought very hard for that, everyone,” said Theo James -- who called into the press day from London -- about giving the other characters more to do this time. “Because it's easy to take a back seat, especially if you've already done a couple of films. But for your own sense of purpose and also the sake of the movies, you have to be willing and energized to be constantly questioning things, whether it's the script or how a character is reacting, and trying to make something new and interesting."
Divergent and Insurgent benefited greatly from the presence of Winslet as the villain, with Naomi Watts also showing up in the second movie (and this one too) as a conflicted anti-heroine. But with Winslet gone, a powerful character actor was needed to step into the shoes of David, the director of the Bureau of Genetic Welfare and mastermind of the genetic experiments that have fractured what’s left of society. Enter Jeff Daniels. “Jeff is so seamless and natural, so present and direct,” said Woodley. “But he doesn't have that masculine, in-your-face directness. It's like a soft, really calculated type of antagonism, and that reminded me in a way of how Kate was as an antagonist."
"He was a clear first choice,” said Wick about the selection of Daniels. “One of the things we've been very lucky with on this series is that we have these brilliant young actors, and on each movie we had an antagonist -- starting with Kate Winslet -- that gave such incredible energy to the movie. And for the character of David, who's sort of the wizard behind the curtain, Jeff emerged quickly as someone who would be credible and humanistic and also an incredible actor."
Daniels reveals that the five factions previously established in the other films -- with each member of society assigned to one based on their personality traits -- are a cover for a much simpler and malevolent division of human beings into the Pure and the Damaged. It’s with these revelations that the overall themes of the entire series begin to come into sharper focus. “One idea that has very much to do with the shape of the story is believing when you're young that somehow the solution will be leaving home and finding your destiny somewhere else,” said Wick. “(Tris) goes out in the world and leaves everything behind, but finds out that she can't leave home, she has to make peace with it."
"Somehow thinking that the grown-ups have the answers instead of you being ready to have them yourself is part of this one,” added producer Lucy Fisher. "In this story, Veronica introduces the idea of the Pure and the Damaged, to say that there shouldn't be divisions between people. Tris says in this movie, 'It doesn't matter to me if you're Damaged or not, we're all the same,' which I think is a big part of this movie and Ascendant also."
“They go outside the Wall, the go to the Bureau, and they go back inside the Wall and go back to Chicago,” said Woodley. “Within that, you can take away the message that sometimes we don't recognize how good it is when it's in front of us and how lucky we are when it's in front of us. We go searching for external situations to appease our discomfort and our restlessness, instead of staying put and directly facing what's in front of us and acknowledging what it has to offer."
Wherever the journey ends up in Ascendant, Robert Schwentke won’t be taking it with the rest of the cast: after doing two of these one after the other (Neil Burger directed the original), Schwentke decided he needed a break. “My initial thought was that he was going to be doing all the rest of the films, and it's a bummer that he's going,” said Zoe Kravitz. “But he's got to do what he needs to do, and if your heart's not in it or you really feel like you don't want to make something, then I think it's better for everybody that you have people who want to be there."
The director on Ascendant is Lee Toland Krieger (The Age of Adeline), who Woodley and Teller almost worked with on The Spectacular Now before James Ponsoldt took over that film. “(Lee's) young, so I think he's going to bring a youthful energy to the movie, which will be great in terms of the juxtaposition for what happens at the end of the film,” said Woodley. “It'll be interesting to work with someone new, who hasn't been a part of this. Lee's past work, he hasn't done anything action-wise, so I think that will enable us to have the story revolve around character more instead of action."
The Divergent Series: Allegiant is now playing in theaters.