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The world of Divergent is a dystopia divided into five distinct factions: Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, and Erudite — plus those who don’t fit neatly into any one faction, who are known as Divergent.
Today I enter that world, and possibly create a new faction: Regurgitant.
That’s because the restaurant chain Johnny Rockets has partnered with the creators of The Divergent Series to create a special limited-time menu timed to — and themed around — the release of the franchise’s latest installment, Allegiant. (Because when you think of dystopian science fiction, you think of 1950s-themed diners.) Anyway, Mr. Rockets has created a whole Allegiant menu to celebrate this happy occasion: three burgers and a milkshake. And I’m going to eat all of it.
The origin of this very poor life choice can be traced back to the summer of 2015, when several other very poor life choices resulted in my spending an entire day at Denny’s, live-blogging my attempt to eat every single item on the chain’s Fantastic Four menu. That crime against food, human decency, and my cholesterol level was one of the most read articles on ScreenCrush last year; for some reason, people really seem to enjoy watching me kill myself slowly on the internet. At several film festivals last fall, I was recognized as “that guy who ate all the Denny’s.” This, apparently, is my legacy. Not the hundreds of critical essays or reviews I’ve written over a 10-year career. No. Readers just like the one time I almost died eating something called “Thing sauce.” (HOT TAKE: Thing sauce was actually pretty tasty.)
No one is immune from market forces. Movie studios feels immense pressure to deliver guaranteed box office, perpetuating an endless cycle of pre-sold franchises (like, say, oh I don’t know, The Divergent Series), and so do I. Hence, the live-blog you are about to read, as I tempt fate and the gods of digestion once more. Sure, my heart almost exploded the last time I tried this. So what? Anything to please you, dear readers.
Let’s take a look at the menu.
Right off the bat I’m a little confused. There is no “Defiant” faction (although I guess some of the characters behave defiantly). In fact there’s just one item, the “Dauntless Brownie Brittle Shake,” that’s actually based on a faction. How well does it actually reflect the values and ethics of Four, Eric and the rest of the Dauntless brigade? That’s what we’re about to find out.
As you read this, I’m diving into to the first of my four-course myocardial infarction meal. Will I be able to eat all this food? In all candor, I don’t know. But I will try my best to be dauntless, and I vow no abnegation until I’m rendered physically ill. At the very least, I hope this erudite running diary promotes amity between me and the ScreenCrush audience.
Now let’s start the insanity. By the next time you hear from me, I’ll be a full-fledged citizen of the Divergent States of America. One nation, under Johnny Rockets. With burgers and hand-spun shakes for all.
For the first dish, we have the “Defiant Smoked Gouda Burger.” Here’s the description from the Johnny Rockets menu:
100% all American handcrafted beef burger, fresh, never frozen and topped with creamy peppered steak sauce, caramelized onions, bacon and smoked Gouda cheese served with leaf lettuce and tomato on a toasted brioche bun.
I’m glad they specified “leaf lettuce.” I hate lettuce with no leaves! Here’s the burger:
Here’s problem #1 with this whole eat-the-Allegiant-menu plan: Every item comes with french fries, and the french fries are, frankly, not good. They’re limp, soggy and completely devoid of salt. On the flip side, I guess they do sort of fit the overall theme of The Divergent Series. What better way to give fans a taste of the flavorless existence that is life in a brutal dystopia than with flavorless french fries? I can already see the cross-promotional scene where Kate Winslet screams “NO! THEY GET NO SALT! SERVE THEM BOILED POTATO FINGERS WITH ZERO SEASONING!”
As for the burger itself, it’s not very defiant, although I guess if you eat three burgers in one sitting you’re at least defying the unwritten laws of simple common sense. It also doesn’t have much gouda flavor, smoked or otherwise. But it’s not a bad burger; the patty is juicy, and the “peppered steak sauce” adds a nice zing. Would I pledge allegiance (or Allegiant) to this burger? Probably not. But I might eat it again, if I didn’t have to eat two other burgers after it.
And that’s problem #2 with this whole eat-the-Allegiant-menu plan: I do have to eat two more burgers. I’m off to go do that.
Taking a quick break from the hamburgers, our next dish is the “Cheddar & Bacon Chicken Rebellion.” The official description:
Prepared with a grilled, farm-raised, 100% all-natural chicken breast and topped with smoked Cheddar cheese, bacon, tomato, leaf lettuce and a creamy garlic aioli on a toasted brioche bun.
Defiant! Rebellion! This is one angry themed menu! My stomach is rebelling anyway, so score another point for movie-food accuracy.
Here’s the sandwich before it went ever so rebelliously into my mouth.
There’s a lot of smoked cheese on this Allegiant menu. Do they only eat smoked cheese in the dark future of Divergent? It seems like they would be too busy fighting for survival and giving each other weird serums to take the time to smoke their cheeses. Maybe that’s why the cheddar in this chicken sandwich rebellion doesn’t have much smoky flavor. Too busy wiping out the divergents to smoke the cheese.
Otherwise this Cheddar & Bacon Chicken Rebellion is much like the Divergent series: inoffensive, unexceptional and immediately forgettable. (And before you ask, I tried another batch of fries, and they were just as bland as the first, so I’m now even more convinced that this is another brilliant and deliberate thematic tie-in.) Even with rebellious bacon and smoked(ish) cheddar, it’s just a chicken sandwich.
A lot of people are asking me to compare this to the Denny’s Fantastic Four menu. It’s a bit more repetitive (since it’s all one sandwich after another, as opposed to a variety of breakfast and lunch options), but it’s smaller, which is nice. I only have to eat one more burger and a milkshake and I’m done. (Although the food probably won’t be done with me for a while.)
Thank you for all your tweets of support and bemused confusion. This one is my favorite so far:
I’m putting this sequel on the fast track to a green light! But first, on to the third course.
In the terrifying future of Divergent, the city of Chicago is surrounded by an enormous wall. You can see the characters scaling the wall (I think) on all the posters for Allegiant.
Readers, I just hit that wall at 100 miles per hour.
Here is the description for the third course, the “Bleu Bacon Allegiant Burger”:
prepared with a 100% all American handcrafted beef burger, and topped with Bleu Cheese crumbles, bacon, tomato, spring mix and mayonnaise on a toasted brioche bun.
And here is what it looked like:
You’ll notice it looks a lot like the Defiant Smoked Gouda Burger, to the point where we almost thought they’d given us two of the same burger by mistake. But upon careful inspection we did find some blue cheese inside this thing. Not much, just a little dab right in the center. Perhaps this is yet another nod to the fallow world of the Divergent franchise, where blue cheese (and salt, apparently) is an incredibly rare commodity.
Whether deliberate or not, I appreciated the restraint: At this point, the less I have to eat the better. I cruised through the first two sandwiches, happy as a clam. But midway through burger #3, I was struck by an overwhelming drive to never eat anything ever again. I begged my coworkers to let me quit, but they egged me on. And so, after a short break, I powered through. Am I in Dauntless yet? This is part of the initiation, right? I can’t imagine a more demanding test of one’s courage.
Again, I’m not sure any of these burgers really have anything to do with Divergent. The Denny’s Fantastic Four menu actually made an effort to find ways to match foods with characters, like the spicy Human Torch egg dish or the craggy bun on the Thing burger. If there’s something allegiant about this burger, I couldn’t find it. (Also, "allegiant" isn’t a real word.) But I do think that eating all three of these sandwiches in one sitting really nails the essence of life in a YA dystopia: an endless slog of misery, discomfort, cruelty and praying for the sweet release of death.
What? I still have to eat a milkshake? Well, at least I get the “sweet” part. Death probably comes shortly after that.
Much as the Divergent series has been extended from three books to four movies, our Allegiant menu has been stretched to a fourth course: the “Dauntless Brownie Brittle™ Shake.” Damn these franchises and their desperate attempts to wring one last payday out of a dying property! Can’t we just let these things go?
No. No, we can’t. We must eat Brownie Brittle milkshakes. Which is described on Johnny Rockets’ website as...
hand spun with premium vanilla ice cream and fudge, nestled inside a swirl of chocolate and topped with whipped cream and a chocolate chip brownie brittle.
And here’s the photo of the milkshake right before I poured it on top of the giant pile of burger and chicken in my stomach.
Even after two burgers and a chicken sandwich this was a damn good milkshake. Nothing about it screams dauntless (a faction defined by “bravery, courage, fighting and physical skills” — right now my physical skills are at an all-time low, and the only thing I’m fighting is extreme nausea), and I’m not sure this was the most refreshing way to end a meal this absurdly gluttonous, but it was definitely the best course of the day. I didn’t drink what was left over in the metal cup, but I polished off the full glass.
And then I died. And now I’m writing this in heaven. Where no one forces me to eat multiple burgers in one sitting.
This whole ordeal was, obviously, very, very stupid. I do think, though, that gorging on all this greasy food provides a unique perspective on (and a perfect metaphor for) modern Hollywood. Granted, no one is supposed to eat all of this food in one sitting. (The approximate nutritional value of my gut-busting repast: 4,000 calories, 225 grams of fat, 6,300mg of sodium and 668mg of cholesterol.) But no one is supposed to subsist on a diet of giant movie franchises either, and increasingly that is what American moviegoers do.
Sure a burger, a shake, and some fries are delicious (OK, maybe not these fries). But a diet of just burgers, shakes and fries? That’s gross. You need to mix things up. The same applies cinematically. Too many movies are as bloated as my waistline right now, and too many franchises are focused on selling you stuff instead of telling a great story. So put down that Diet Dr. Pepper with Henry Cavill on it, and get out to the movie theater to see something that doesn’t have a movie-themed tie-in menu. Otherwise, they’re going to keep making this stuff, and someone is going to keep forcing me to eat it.
What’s that? There’s a KFC menu themed to Batman v Superman?
Actually, this BvSvKFC menu is only available in the Philippines. So guess what, guys? We’re going to the Philippines!
Until then, I think it’s time for a little nap.
Watch noted idiot Matt Singer eat the entire Johnny Rockets Allegiant menu: