'Allegiant' will be two films? Why this decision might hurt Veronica Roth's work

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Image Credit: Jaap Buitendijk

There will be four movies for Four.

It was announced Friday morning that the final book in the Divergent trilogy, Allegiant, will be split into two films, coming out a year apart, bringing the franchise to four films total. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows kicked off this trend — successfully — which means that now everyone feels free to turn their film installments into two projects (Twilight did it, and Hunger Games will do it as well). My colleague Darren Franich already wrote about why this is a trend that needs to die — and I wholeheartedly agree. But for Divergent/Allegiant specifically, I’m quite curious exactly how the studio plans to make two films — and how they plan to make sure that decision won’t ultimately hurt Veronica Roth’s work.

[Spoilers for Allegiant follow]

For many fans — the ones who’ve devoured all the books and already flocked to the movie — Allegiant was always going to pose problems. While Divergent sequel Insurgent is more of the same, Allegiant takes a stab at expanding the world. While some fans loved the exploration into genetics and the Big Questions about why people are the way they are, many others felt it lacked the action of the first two installments — the kind of thrills that made the film so successful (and even allowed a few to think it tackled dystopian worlds even better than the Hunger Games — which is blasphemous for some of you, I know.)

Big Question themes work great on paper, but onscreen they can be tricky — particularly when audiences are expecting action shots. Is Allegiant going to be Aaron Sorkin-style walk-and-talks between Tris and Tobias? Will there be metaphor-heavy conversations between Tris, Tobias, and the others while they hang out in a truck driving into the city? Unlikely. So what remains in its place? There’s barely enough plot in this book for one film, let alone two. If the film was just one movie, we could quickly jump through some of the events in the first two-thirds of the book: Tris and Four finally have sex (probably)!, Caleb’s trial and aftermath!, Nita!, and could keep the movie a tightly-plotted adventure. Now it seems like we’re trying to take one and turn it into two, which is actually just going to leave us with half and bad feelings. (This equation is The Breaking Dawn Theorem.)

But most concerning about Allegiant specifically is the fact that, while of course the filmmakers might find a way around this, right now it seems like a mid-story split is going to kill all the suspense that the film will hopefully build up before the climactic finale — and the climactic finale is the thing that sets Divergent apart. While Hunger Games, Twilight, and Harry Potter all ultimately show some kind of happily ever after following their respective¬†final battles, Allegiant pulls a hard left in the final act, having heroine Tris die for the cause and leave a devastated Tobias behind. We can argue over whether the twist works or feels emotionally manipulative (yes, we all have feelings), but from a filmmaking standpoint, there’s your hook, there’s your discussion moment, there’s your thing that people talk about months or years later.

Without that as the event we’re immediately building toward, I fear Allegiant Part 1 is just going to feel aimless — Shailene Woodley acting the hell out of scenes that don’t need to exist. It’s a film that might work as part of a franchise, but will feel mighty light — and possibly even boring? — on its own. Deathly Hallows Pt. 1 and Pt. 2 had fairly different tones, but that’s a fantastic different beast entirely– the novel was nearly twice the length of Allegiant, had about 900 characters with full backstories, and had six previous installments it could build upon.

Look, we all get that these decisions are financial. Woodley as a star is only going to get bigger and brighter as the next few years go on — just wait until after this summer’s The Fault in Our Stars. (ASIDE: Based on pre-release buzz, how much do you think Fox wishes it could hypothetically split that film into two?) I get wanting to make sure Woodley dominates typically-slow March for years to come, but trying to mine more Divergent out of a story that just isn’t that deep isn’t the answer.

This is happening: Where do you want to see the two films split? Now that there’s extra time, what scenes do you hope producers focus on/expand beyond what is in the novel?

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