Here's a look at the new movies I saw this week.
The Divergent Series: Allegiant
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Jeff Daniels, Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort, Octavia Spencer, and Naomi Watts
Synopsis: Young adult book series adapted into film series have been all the rage in recent years. Last fall we saw one popular series — “The Hunger Games” — limp to the finish with a flat final offering. The “Divergent” series didn’t come into theaters with as much fanfare, but through two films it built a solid following. With “Allegiant,” which was released March 18, the series is making a pivot toward its conclusion. After radically changing the world in “Insurgent,” the second installment in the series, “Allegiant” seemed to pave the way for something new. At least that was a logical conclusion. But much like what happened with the dystopian vision of the future offered in “The Hunger Games,” that doesn’t end up being all it’s cracked up to be for the “Divergent” series either. One of the tough things about these book series is the worlds they present. People dive into fiction — or go to the movies — as a means of escape. But these dystopic visions of the future seem to end in the same place, with distrust of governments and institutions and one bad government being replaced by another. That might be an accurate reflection of reality — or even a perception of reality — but it’s hardly the satisfying ending audiences are seeking. I was disappointed in the flaccid way “The Hunger Games” ended after a strong start. While the “Divergent” series has another film to build its conclusion, the third installment started down a similarly disappointing path. It’s not a bad film, it’s just not inspiring or as engrossing as what came before it. Part of that is a result of the story, which feels ponderous, sometimes confusing and leaves our heroes separated for large portions of the narrative. The final act is similarly dissatisfying in terms of story, action and resolution. Another part of the problem is that this film — more so than others in the series — feels too CGI-heavy. Large portions of the film are quite obviously done in front of a green screen and aren’t as visually appealing as they could be. Finally, the weakest part of the series for me has always been the relationship between Tris and Four, which sometimes feels forced. That was especially true in this third installment, where it felt they were lacking in on-screen chemistry. It might sound like I hated this film. I didn’t. I just thought it was a giant step backward for the series, which makes me concerned about where it’s moving in the final installment. Woodley is a talented young actress who has been great in some smaller films. But “Allegiant” doesn’t make the best use of her abilities, nor does it make the best use of an otherwise talented cast. Too many of the characters lack dimension, which adds to the story falling flat. There’s a lot of potential here, but “Allegiant” doesn’t realize that potential.
Rating: PG-13 for intense violence and action, thematic elements, and some partial nudity.
Verdict: Two stars out of four.
Gods of Egypt
Starring: Gerard Butler, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, and Brenton Thwaites
Synopsis: "Gods of Egypt" was a pretty epic failure. It cost approximately $140 million (not including marketing costs) and opened with a thud in late February. I finally got around to seeing it this week, and I know why. First off, the movie drew plenty of criticism for casting a host of white Europeans to play Egyptians, and rightly so. During a time when diversity in casting was being scrutinized, this was a giant red flag. Secondly, it was a flop because of the story and production. It's too reliant on special effects, it's too long, and the plot is too confusing. It showcases dozens of "gods" but doesn't really explain what's happening. If you were familiar with Egyptian history that might help, but I'm not sure this film follows the truth of these myths that closely. Instead we get a limp-wrested love story mascaraing as an action-comedy. I like Butler as an action hero in the right project — but this isn't it. And Coster-Waldau is great on "Game of Thrones" but has little to do as the "hero" in this film. "Gods of Egypt" is a preposterous waste of time, but at least there's some laughs — intentional and unintentional.
Rating: PG-13 for fantasy violence and action, and some sexuality.
Verdict: One star out of four.
Miracles From Heaven
Starring: Jennifer Garner, Queen Latifah, Martin Henderson, Eugenio Derbez, and Kylie Rogers
Synopsis: It's been a rich time for stories of faith. "Miracles From Heaven" is the true story of the Beam family from Texas, based on a book written about their experiences. Christy Beam (Garner) and her husband Kevin (Henderson) live in a small Texas town with their three girls. When their middle daughter, Anna (Rogers), becomes gravely ill, it nearly breaks the family financially and emotionally. And there is no cure, and seemingly little hope for Anna's quality of life. Then an accident leads to a miraculous recovery. This is a predictable film, especially since it's based on a true story. But it's still a beautifully told film. For me, faith-based stories that really work are the ones that get to the emotional core of the deeper questions we ask, the deepest longings of our hearts. "Miracles From Heaven" went there early and stayed in that place. It didn't offer platitudes or easy answers, and it even included a beat of showing the faith and hope offered by Jesus Christ even when a miracle doesn't come. To me, that was powerful and beautiful. As I said, we are in a rich time for faith-based films. But among a suddenly crowded marketplace, this was the best I've seen. It was beautifully acted and beautifully told. It's a movie every Christian should see, and a movie that offers a powerful message of hope that is so desperately needed in our world today.Rating: PG for thematic material, including accident and medical images.
Verdict: Four stars out of four.
Friday, March 25 — "Batman v. Superman: The Dawn of Justice," "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2," "The Disappointments Room"