MOVIE REVIEWS: “ALLEGIANT” and others!

 

Figure 1 - Hunger Games Mockingjay pt 2

Figure 1 – Hunger Games Mockingjay pt 2

*WARNING*: This review may contain accidental spoilers!

I wasn’t going to review this movie (Allegiant, not Mockingjay pt. 2) for a couple of reasons: first, I find the whole Divergent/Insurgent/Allegiant/Whateverent scenario even more unbelievable than the Hunger Games scenario — it’s as if the people who write these YA books (assuming the movies follow the books fairly closely) are trying to further rot the minds of our Young Adults; and second, I didn’t see the previous movie in this series, and am unlikely to, based on my experience with this one. (Actually, I forgot there was a movie between Divergent and Allegiant, because I didn’t like Divergent to begin with and only watched this because I was bored and wanted something vaguely science-fictional.) There are some pretty good actors in this, although (IMO) not as many as in the Hunger Games franchise. I liked (in no particular order) Theo James, Miles Teller, Bill Skarsgård, Naomi Wattts and — despite the fact that they were pretty much wasted in this movie, Maggie Q, Octavia Spenser and Jeff Daniels. But Shailene Woodley just didn’t carry it for me.

What’s my problem with Shailene Woodley? Well, she’s an okay actor, but she’s sure no Jennifer Lawrence (figure 1). Now, I realize that’s an unfair comparison; there’s only one Jennifer Lawrence. (Yes, I like her a lot; she appears to have screen presence, grace, intelligence and a sense of humour, qualities sorely lacking in many screen personalities.) Woodley reminds me of that famous Gertrude Stein quotation about Oakland: “There’s no there there!” But it’s not really her fault — they’re trying to make her carry all these movies, and the weight is just too much for her. Woodley’s vacant look when Four (Theo James) is trying to talk her out of going with David (Jeff Daniels) is reason enough for that judgement — it’s a key scene in the movie, but she brings nothing to it.

Figure 2 - Allegiant Poster

Figure 2 – Allegiant Poster

In the first movie, Divergent, we learned that Chicago, thanks to this wall around it, is the only city left in the world after what I vaguely remember was a bunch of wars, probably atomic. We found out that it’s death to go outside the wall; the wall keeps Chicago safe from the outside. We also learned that the surviving Chicagoans — hey, there’s a distinct Chicago accent, and I just realized I didn’t hear it in these movies! — have been divided into five factions to keep the city peaceful. Can’t remember them all (the first movie was only vaguely memorable and, unlike the Suzanne Collins books (which I did read), I haven’t read the Veronica Roth books on which this series is based), but the factions were Dauntless, Erudite, Abnegation and…er, Candor…and…well, it’s not important.

You take a test when you’re 16 and get assigned to a faction; if you don’t fit in you become “factionless” and are forced to live on the streets. Predictably, this all leads to internecine war, and by film 3, the factions are no more. The faction that Tris (Beatrice), our heroine and Four, her boyfriend belonged to was Dauntless; these are the ones who aren’t supposed to be afraid of anything, and the Dauntlesses decide to leave Chicago and see if there’s something better outside the wall. But the new leader of the city, Evelyn (Naomi Watts), who is Four’s mother, closes the outside gate and forbids anyone to leave the city. She also begins trials of the prior Faction leaders, as well as executions. One of those scheduled for execution is Caleb (Ansel Elgort), Tris’s brother, but Four breaks him out and, with several others, he, Tris, Caleb and Peter (Miles Teller) make it over the wall. They are pursued, but discover there is a force field outside the wall that conceals a second, futuristic city built on the site of O’Hare, former Chicago airport (“What’s an airport?” Peter wonders.) The escapees are taken there in force bubbles and decontaminated.

Figure 3 - Escapees from Chicago

Figure 3 – Escapees from Chicago

Figure 3 shows the major escapees: from left — Peter, Nita, Tris, Four, Caleb, and Christina. And here’s another part of my rant against these types of movies: we are shown a futuristic city which uses all kinds of antigrav and computer technology, plus some kind of wonder gas (a “serum”) that totally erases memory without leaving the recipient a babbling idiot, clothing very similar to what we wear today, happy clean people in clean buildings — unlike Chicago, where every building was crumbling — and we are not shown any infrastructure to maintain it! Where are the farms that support this shiny clean antigravitic future? Where are the factories that make the plastic we see everywhere, the electronics, the flying vehicles, the guns and the clothing? How is the power generated? We see surveillance technology (a type of VR) that allows people in O’Hare’s “Pure City” to see literally anything in Chicago — but where are the transmission towers? How are these VR sights and sounds transmitted?

I can hear you now, just like MST3K (Mystery Science Theater 3000): “You ask how Joel eats and drinks and other science facts? Just say to yourself ‘It’s just a show, I should really just relax!’”

But here’s the difference between “sci-fi” and science fiction, for those of you who haven’t heard: science fiction is an attempt to portray something plausible; something which adheres to known rules of science, or extrapolates from them. Whereas (as I heard one pundit say, “Hey, it’s just sci-fi; anything goes,”) if you throw all the rules out the window, what’s to keep it from being Harry Potter? And SF (science fiction) demands that the writer think logically and not put anything impossible in the story unless the writer can supply a realistic explanation, whereas in “sci-fi” you can throw in anything, like magical gases, or little drones with built-in AI that can give you VR-type vision through a headpiece (similar to today’s earphones) that you slip on. (And, just to be snarky, doesn’t a lot of this series sound taken…er, borrowed…er, similar to stuff in The Hunger Games, which came out earlier?)

There’s also a whole lot of talky-talk in this film about how humans — before the wars — started changing their own genome to have “perfect” kids and, partially because of that and partially because of radiation and other things coming out of the wars, the human genome became “damaged.” However, because Chicago is being run as an experiment, the factions have somehow produced the first “pure” human again — that being Tris. As a scientific explanation, none of this holds any kind of water; we’re supposed to believe that every single human on the planet had damaged genes/genome, and she’s the first ever in a couple of hundred years to return to a “pure” genome, whatever the heck that is, and they bred back to her—a “pure” human in a couple of hundred years (or however long it was since the apocalypse). I’m sorry, the whole thing is nonsensical. (And the box-office figures bore my opinion out, too… According to IMDB, the film’s budget was $100 million; its gross to date is only about double that; it’s the lowest-grossing “…ent” film of the series.)

One thing I will give them is that the CGI is amazing; there is no moment in this movie where I consciously thought,“Hey, that’s the Sears/Willis Tower, which isn’t all crumbled up like that; this must be CGI!” The practical effects, whatever they are, are completely matched to the CGI. These are the kinds of effects that I and thousands of people like me wish they’d had when we were kids, instead of insipid model work, badly-matched hand-drawing and rotoscoping and cardboard-and-styrofoam sets. (Unfortunately for many films, the only real masters of model work seem to have been the Japanese film-makers.) It appears that now, anything you can imagine can be translated into unimaginably real visuals. That, for me, is what kept this movie out of the basement.

I have been asked to consider rating movies with something like a “star” rating, only using comets or spaceships or another “space-y” theme; I kind of like to grade movies on a “pass-fail” basis, but I can see the value in a rating. Although I find comets and spaceships to be kind of “twee” for a rating system, I’ll use a non-standard symbol like this (whatever this is): ¤. I can still do a pass/fail; consider that 5 of them (¤¤¤¤¤) is the highest rating I can give, and one (¤) is the lowest. Anything lower than three (¤¤¤) is a fail; anything higher is a pass. Based on that, I give Allegiant two ¤¤s.

QUICKIE REVIEWS (May contain spoilers, too):

¤¤ Independence Day: Resurgence: Really? This is basically the first Independence Day blown up real big. Earth now has a bunch of alien technology, like antigrav, but the aliens come back with a bigger ship. And the old “alien queen” trope. Really? C’mon! Also, if you have antigrav, why build helicopters that look like helicopters with no blades? Pointless much? Same old “same old” with a few new characters and most of the old ones.

¤¤¤¤ Captain America: Civil War: follows Avengers: Age of Ultron in the Marvel Movie Universe, same cast sans Hulk, Thor and Loki, plus a couple of newbies: Ant Man (Paul Rudd), T’Challa the Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Spiderman (Tom Holland). This is great comic-book movie writing; whichever side you fall on (Sokovia Accords or no Sokovia Accords), you can see why each side of the Avengers has taken the stand they have, and you can only watch helplessly as the Avengers tear themselves apart. And although it’s not written by Joss Whedon, you can see Whedon-like humourous touches. Came really close to capturing that fifth ¤!

¤¤¤ Suicide Squad: I really wanted to give this four ¤s, but it just didn’t make it. Jared Leto as The Joker was barely there, and the movie — while some of the characterizations were good — likewise motivations — it was entirely too CGI-heavy for what it was. Saving grace? Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. I think I could watch a whole movie with her as the main character!

¤¤ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows: They screwed it up, in my opinion. The first one of this reboot was watchable; this one went full-on comic book  which, while true to the turtles’ origin, made it somehow a less-than-adult-watchable film. The film does have one saving grace, and it’s not Megan Fox: the new turtles are finally distinguishable to the average watcher, and I actually now know which one is which! Oddly enough, while the movie became less watchable from an adult viewpoint, the turtles themselves have become more watchable, with human traits that make them more sympathetic than the previous comic-book turtles.

¤¤ Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: I think I’ve mentioned before that as superheroes go, Supes is “my guy.” He (as well as the original Captain Marvel, now known as “Shazam”) is the superhero I grew up with. I haven’t kept up with all his incarnations; after they killed him and rebooted him as four or five different Supermen, I kind of drifted away. But this particular film franchise changed him too much, and I’m not talking about him losing the iconic “strong-man trunks” on his costume. I’m talking about him killing Zod and being apparently unconcerned about collateral damage while he fought Zod and his legions, both in Smallville and Metropolis. (Speaking of which, why the heck was Batguy in Metropolis? Isn’t he s’posed to hang out in Gotham?) The character is just too different from what I grew up with; and Batboy’s insistence that “if there’s just 1% chance that he might destroy the Earth he must be killed” or words to that effect, just turned me right the heck off this movie. I didn’t like it — and not because Superman gets killed (we all know he’ll be back!); I just don’t care for the direction of the DC Movie Universe (DCMU). I didn’t mind Ben Affleck as Batfella, not nearly as much as I minded him as Daredevil a few years back.

¤¤¤¤¤ Deadpool: Okay, here’s my first 5-star review. I just found this movie to be a heck of a lot of fun. I was only vaguely familiar with the character before I saw it; now I’ve read a number of Deadpool comics and still like the movie a lot. Ryan Reynolds is a perfect fit as “The Merc With the Mouth” (hey, isn’t his character in Blade III almost the same?); and the humour here is my kind of funny. Ed Skrein was a great Ajax and it was wonderful to see Leslie Uggams again. It’s scatological, irreverent, sexy, violent, funny and all around wonderful. I’ve watched this three times and will probably see it again!

LAST WORDS: I was going to quick-review a bunch more films, but I don’t want you all to know how much of my life is wasted spent watching movies instead of doing something constructive, like writing. I had a bunch more to trash review, including X‑Men: Apocalypse, but I figured I’d inflicted enough on you already today. If you disagree with my reviews, please comment… I can discuss favourite and anti-favourite movies alike!

Please do comment on this week’s column. You can comment here, or on my Facebook page, or in the several Facebook groups where I publish a link to this column. (I see the Facebook comments first, usually.) I might not agree with your comments, but they’re all welcome, so don’t feel you have to agree with me to comment. My opinion is, as always, my own, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Amazing Stories or its owners, editors, publishers or other columnists. See you next week!

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