Why ‘Divergent’ Is a Better Movie Than ‘The Hunger Games’

Divergent

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Divergent” is my favorite kind of movie, and though it shares a fair amount of DNA in common with “The Hunger Games,” it ranks as far superior in my book. Granted, on this opinion, I clearly diverge from the vast majority of film critics — and perhaps a good many fans as well.

So allow me to explain.

When I go to the movies, I want to be transported someplace completely new, immersed in that world and compelled to identify with the characters I meet there. This is a broad enough definition to encompass nearly all movies, from “Wall-E” to “March of the Penguins,” but you might be surprised how few actually succeed at meeting this relatively simple goal.

“Divergent” does. How? Simple — so simple, I wish more filmmakers would study this trick, make note of it and incorporate it into their own films: Take a character, the more naive or inexperienced the better, put her (or him) in an unfamiliar situation and tell the story from her point of view. When done well, this tactic never gets old, and it makes all the difference between “sit back” movies (escapist fantasies that we watch like passive observers) and “lean forward” experiences (where we engage directly with what’s onscreen).

Think about it: This strategy is what makes “The Bourne Identity” one of the most visceral action movies in decades — amnesia being an incredibly convenient device for putting us on a character’s level. But it also works on the arthouse end of the spectrum, when foreign films offer up identifiable protagonists struggling to navigate unfamiliar environments, such as Saudi Arabian “Wadjda,” in which a girl tests the limits of a society that forbids her desire to own a bicycle, or Palme d’Or winner “Blue Is the Warmest Color,” where intimate closeups bring us inside the emotional headspace of a teenager experiencing her first lesbian love affair.

You don’t even have to stick with the character in question for the whole journey. “Mad Men” didn’t. If you go back to the first episode of the first season, you’ll see that it privileges Peggy’s p.o.v. — a clever way of inviting audiences to discover Don Draper and his retro Madison Ave. advertising world through the eyes of the firm’s newest employee.

In “Divergent,” the story focuses on Beatrice Prior, AKA Tris, whom we meet on the eve of her “Choosing Day” and whom we follow — though I think “become” would be a better word, since Shailene Woodley is a wonderfully identifiable actress, and director Neil Burger puts us in her head the whole way — through the consequences of her choice. Now, plenty of critics complained that it takes almost two hours for the action to kick in. For the record, I am 100% OK with that. The last half hour of “Divergent” — the half hour those people so badly want more of — is the part that I’ve seen countless times before (and frankly, the way Burger handles the finale, it looks a little too much like a bunch of kids playing Lazer Tag in some empty Chicago warehouses).

By contrast, I would’ve been happy to spend the whole movie in Exposition mode — that’s what the detractors consider all that extraneous downtime before the story kicks in. We believers describe it as “Worldbuilding,” a concept invented by classic sci-fi writers and all but perfected in the decades since by videogame designers. In both arenas, the creators must invent a world from scratch, think through the “rules” that govern it and find an effective way to communicate them.

The most effective way is exactly as I’ve just described: Give us a character to identify with and then invite us to figure things out vicariously through them. This is the reason why videogames, in which we literally assume control of someone in an unfamiliar world, devote their first few levels to letting players figure out how things work. There’s an art to doing this as smoothly and intuitively as possible, and someone like James Cameron is a master of this approach, whether our avatar is the lower-class stowaway through whose eyes we discover “Titanic” or the 10-foot, blue-skinned Na’vi of “Avatar.”

In “Divergent,” Tris is a bright and resourceful character who nimbly adapts to each new challenge that’s put before her. When she chooses to join the Dauntless faction, we learn the rules right alongside her — from that first rooftop-jump through the MacGyver-like behavior that gets her through her final test. It’s exciting to spend time in such a space, where the filmmakers respect the intelligence of both their protagonist and the audience.

Katniss Everdeen is written that way in Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” (first person, present tense), but the film somehow botches this sense of connection, failing to let audiences inside her head. Instead, director Gary Ross forces us to remain bystanders to the story — ultimately closer to the fabulous, bloodthirsty mob that follows along from the Capitol than we are to Jennifer Lawrence’s character. Meanwhile, he overcompensates with clumsy external tricks, like using shaky camerawork to suggest the agitation of the lottery scene. Katniss may be a strong heroine, but she’s not especially relatable in the film, and it’s nearly impossible to read how she feels toward her two love interests. (The sequel fixes these problems, elegantly identifying with Katniss as the game makers rewrite the rules.)

“Divergent” gets it right. Movies aren’t nearly as interesting to watch as they are to experience, and Burger gives us the chance to identify with Tris on multiple levels: There’s her connection to her family, the decision of her future, the dangerous initiation rites required to join Dauntless and even a sizzling romantic dynamic with Four (Theo James), a handsome character who helps her along without bumping Tris from the driver’s seat of her own story. Through it all, “Divergent’s” message is clear: Tris is different from the others. She’s special. And because of the vicarious way Burger involves us in her journey, by extension, so are we.

Did I mention that “Divergent” is my favorite kind of movie?

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  1. thnx for sharing this superb web site

  2. Sophia says:

    Divergent is way better. The other one is overexaggerated and Alice in Wonderland tripply cartoonish characters. Plus it was too loud, disorganized and obnoxious. Divergent is more focused.

  3. Absolutely agree! I have waited to comment until all four of the films were out, but I was very disappointed with Hunger Games film series as a whole. It kills me to say it! Themes and characters from this far superior novel trilogy should have fallen easily onto the screen, but they somehow never came together and engaged the way the novels did. Despite strong performances and excellent casting, the HG films in no way portrayed the complexity of the relationships or the depth of character. Yes, it’s extremely hard to take a 400 page book and boil it down to a 200 pg screenplay, but Divergent does it and actually pluses the novel. It balances the romance, characters and action perfectly. Of course, the balance of the Divergent series is not out yet, so it remains to be seen if they will continue this track record. But so far … yes, YES! It’s Divergent by a long shot.

  4. karaj says:

    Have to completely disagree. Divergent is way to simplistic. Hunger games actually has some depth to the characters. I love the complicated relationship with peta and gale in hunger games. Also, you don’t know how katness feels, because she doesn’t really know or want to think about it. I hate that 4 seconds into divergent I could tell you just about everything that was going to happen. The only twist I didn’t particularly see was four turning against her. However, it was hilarious remenisent of hunger games except it lasted for all of a minute. Lame. I didn’t mind divergent because I love distopias, but it I can watch and reread hunger games over and over. Hands down hunger games! I rarely agree with critics, but divergent is clearly for a younger crowd. Hunger games isnt a sappy romance. It was all about revolution. Divergent seems to appeal more to the twilight/romance novel crowd.

  5. Only seen the 1st Hunger Games film and halfway through watching Divergent right now that I had to do a bit of Googling, and as usual ‘expert critics’ have given the Divergent a film I’m liking so far low scores. I don’t know what it is, but when professional critics give low scores I end up liking the film and can’t understand the low scores, but when films get rated high I usually end up disliking the film. I’m like a critics worst nightmare, yet this one I agree with. Films I like are usually action with no story eg. Jean Claude Van Damme films, or films based on true stories. Denzel Washington films are my favourites especially ‘Remember The Titans’ and ‘Deja Vu’ because you feel like you’re ‘in their shoes’, just like ‘Divergent’ makes you feel like you’re in Tris’ shoes. Other favourite films include ‘Men of Honor’, ‘Patch Adams’, ‘Antwone Fisher’, ‘187’, ‘Dangerous Minds’, ‘Saving Private Ryan’, ‘Black Hawn Down’, ‘Pearl Harbour’, ‘A Beautiful Mind’, ‘Behind Enemy Lines’, ‘8 Mile’…you get the picture. Hunger Games was an ok film but not great imo, which is why I can’t understand why ‘Catching Fire’ was number 1 in the most popular films of 2013 for so long, its now dropped a few places. And while ‘Mockingjay’ is 40th in the IMDB’s ‘Moviemeter’ of most popular films in 2014, ‘Divergent’ is 35 places ahead in 5th place. I think that speaks for itself.

  6. Ange_lo12 says:

    The Hunger Games and it’s series is way more better than the divergent series. The plot of Divergent makes no sense at all, THG is awesome so please stop comparing the hunger games with divergent because divergent can’t compete with the hunger games…

  7. Piper says:

    I 100% agree with u. Divergent is way better than The Hunger Games as it’s actually fun and NOT DEPRESSING !!!!! People always say that it’s just a copy, but in fact it isn’t. If you look at the plot, the characters, the world and the STORY ITSELF, then you’ll see that it’s completely different.

    I hate it when people always get into arguements saying that it’s a copy ect. It pisses me right off.

    This formal ‘speech’ make me happy. Lol

  8. Jaz says:

    Stop lying to yourself Hunger Games is way better then Divergent

  9. Bob says:

    I just came here to tell you that you’re wrong and Divergent is a disgusting, pathetic excuse for a film. Not even that big of a Hunger Games fan but if you think Divergent was anything but garbage you don’t know anything about movies.

  10. Erin says:

    I couldn’t agree more. I’m not saying hunger games is trash, but Divergent is way better of a movie. I really enjoyed the first movie of the Hunger Games. Bu as the series goes on? I don’t know. It just turned too boring. I don’t know what will happen to Insurgent, but Divergent was great. It had a happier mood to it and it makes you want to jump up and down. It makes your heart beat, and doesn’t let your eyes off the screen.

  11. MOCKINGJAY FOREVER says:

    U know what whoever wrote this article is a fucken nut case! How the HELL is Divergent more better than The Hunger Games!!!! Cause I got so many reasons why this shit is false! First of Jlaw is the BEST! She won a fricken Oscar, what the hell did shailene do, whine like a kid on that stupid tv show! She can’t even act! And her little weird co stars! The Hunger Games cast has more talent and can actually act! The overall story, theme and characters are SOOO MUCH BETTER! Katniss can kick the main character’s ass in a fuckin second! Katniss is brave and smart and is amazing at the bow and arrow! What the hell can the divergent girl do?? Katniss protects Her family, gale and peeta! She’s just the BEST! It’s no comparison at all! THE HUNGER GAMES FRANCHISE IS THE BEST AND ALWAYS WILL BE!!! And on that note I hate this article and the person who wrote is probably on some shit and hate variety for being a bunch of assholes :) CANT WAIT FOR MOCKINGJAY PART 1!!!

  12. Anon says:

    Yes! I watched it tonight and I loved it soo much. I want to go buy this. My three favorite movies in no particular order: The Princess Bride, Divergent, and The Count of Monte Cristo. Actually, I watched the Hunger Games movie and although it was interesting and I will see the sequel I was totally turned off by the thought of indulging in reading the books or finding out more. It seemed to be a chore, not very engaging.

  13. Trixie says:

    I agree with this. for me divergent is better than hunger games. In making movies whether you read the book or not, the role of the character is very important because you need to make the viewers to understand your role and let them get inside you to make them understand. If you haven’t read the novel hunger games you will not understand what is the story all about not unlike the divergent. The character of Tris gave us a lot of information with her thoughts and future plan not unlike katniss, she will make you confuse about what is really her aim throughout the story. I also like the ind of action that you can see in divergent because its more real than hunger games and you can really feel the emotion of every secene. that’s why i can say that divergent is better.

  14. Chris says:

    This review reads to me as a person who read neither the Divergent or the Hunger Games series. I get it, it’s a film and it should be able to stand alone, and perhaps if I had watched it with virgin eyes, then your review would make sense. But being a fan of both series, in book format, Hunger Games is by far the superior film. Divergent just fell flat, especially at the end, not leaving me wanting more at all. Although there is a market for people who are strictly film goers, the majority, I’d wager are fans of the books who wanted it fleshed out on the big screen, and Divergent just disappointed.

  15. angie says:

    seriously?*rolls eyes*
    what a really stupid article
    Hunger Games movies are far superior to that of the piece of trash that is known as Divergent.
    Divergent was a boring,mediocre and mostly poor made movie and together with the terrible acting of the leads remains one of the movies that i regret paying for.
    Divergent should be rename Detergent because yes, the movie is that bad.
    I pity your terrible taste in movies tbh, i seriously can’t take a critic with opinions like that when the majority of your colleagues who clearly know better than you, have clearly disagreed with your review what with the 89% rotten tomatoes that Catching Fire has enjoyed and 91% audience approval compared to the 41% rotten tomatoes that Detergent has.

  16. I completely agree. Divergent lets you into that world so well that it stays with you. It’s stayed with me a full week after first seeing it. It inspired me to read the books to immerse myself even more in that world (for the record, I know the ending, and I think it adds greater purpose to everything that happens before). Divergent has made me look into myself and see our world differently. THG is a great watch, but there is no way I am ‘in’ that world. It just doesn’t compare.

  17. Ken Burke says:

    Divergent and Hunger Games? It’s the old apples and oranges debate. Both are excellent series based on their own merits. I like them all.

  18. !00% agree! Great article… Thank you!

  19. J. says:

    Well, I disagree. Divergent sucks. THG is far better.

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  21. drush76 says:

    Nope. Sorry, but I don’t agree. Even the death of the main character in this second series has not convinced me.

  22. AS says:

    i love it that the main character dies i think it shows life and how not everything goes the way you want and how she dies for her brother really shows she has never left her selfless behind she is a true Divergent

  23. LoveLikeWhitney says:

    I think the problem with Divergent is the ending to the series. I won’t divulge it, but it’s unnecessary & terrible & I feel like people are going to get sucked into it’s world & then be angry & disappointed with the end. Hunger Games is clearly the superior novel.

    With that said, the source material for Divergent really wasn’t something that was “oh my goodness, this is SO great this NEEDS to be a movie!” It was Summit jumping on their YA bandwagon trying to make more money now that Twilight is done. The film was almost universally panned, less than 50% of viewers who went the 1st weekend had even read the book (compared to Hunger Games w/ 74%) & they still green lit the next two installments. It’s just a money-making machine. Nothing against the cast because there is no reason for it NOT to work with the people that are in it. I just think it’s a movie with an a-list cast but maybe c-list material to begin with…

  24. fairytaillover says:

    I think that divergent was put out too early,they should’ve waited until the hunger games was done.That way there would have been a new heroine to look up to and the film wouldn’t have gotten so much criticism of the similarities to the hunger games series.I think people would have had a different out look on divergent book and movie wise.I’m a hunger games fan as well(book&movies),but business wise putting out divergent should have waited until the hunger games died down.

  25. panicmanic says:

    Why don’t you try reading the two books and you’ll see. It’s like comparing the teacher and the student. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read both series, and I’m sorry to say that Divergent is much inferior to the Hunger Games, both in books and in movies. So tell me, how much did they pay you to write this bullshit?

  26. Jerry Witt says:

    This is an early April Fools joke, right?

    I saw Divergent over the weekend and was painfully disappointed. The story (such that it was) was crazy-simple. “This group represents politicians, this group represents scientists, this group represents business…” Inexcusable, even for a story with it’s roots in a Young Adult series of books.

    Divergent “borrows” from other YA novels. But it is so clumsy and telegraphed it is painful. It’s almost like the original writer was told “Make sure you get some of that Harry Potter sorting hat stuff in there. The kids love that.”

    And finally, the look of the movie was straight out of a CW TV show. The climatic battle takes place around some non-descript gray buildings and a sparse white “tech room.” Worldbuilding? Characters wear one of 5 plain outfits based on their chosen role in this world. There is none of the fantastic over-done excess of Hunger Games’ Capitol City.

    Do I need to mention that plot elements that were introduced were never fully paid off? The guy that hooks up with Tris was beaten by his father. They finally meet, there is no exploration of that tension. The thing that shaped him most is just set aside and NEVER PAYS OFF.

    Previously I was just mad at Divergent for being so lame. But now I’m mad at Variety for publishing this article.

  27. jamie says:

    I saw Divergent over the weekend with my kids, and i have to say your analysis makes sense. I literally was compelled to cheer when Tris managed to overcome all odds, and defeat the Erudite efforts to engage in what amounted to mass murder. I did not read these books, like I did the hunger games, but I completely enjoyed the journey Divergent offered up. I don’t know if I can say one movie is better than the other, but they are different, and your description accurately explains why.

  28. starakat says:

    I loved Divergent. It was immersive, emotional and romantic. The worldbuilding part of the movie is my favorite part as well and gives the story and characters more depth than movies that cut straight into the action sequences.

  29. Carla says:

    There’s no comparison, period. Divergent loses you in parts and it sounds like the movie does too. I understand you prefer it but to state it’s simply better is just a hook that didn’t work. Like Divergent, you column lost me rather quickly. And like the book, I had to scan to the bottom.

  30. Phia says:

    You realize that Divergent was a book, too, right? Because there is nothing in this article that lets someone know that. Though you might not actually want to read the book, because it is far, far, FAR inferior to the Hunger Games, and very obviously Hunger Games-inspired. Honestly, I don’t know that the dystopia-trend would have ever really taken off the ground so quickly and stayed for as long if it had been Divergent trying to kick it off instead of the Hunger Games.

  31. Michael says:

    The people that watched this film “Divergent” are fans of Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, and Kim Kardashian.

  32. Michael says:

    Are you on crack? Your telling me that Divergent is better than Hunger Games? That’s like comparing “Jaws” to “Sharknado.”

    • MOCKINGJAY FOREVER says:

      Thank you! Finally someone who makes sense! The Hunger Games is SO MUCH IN EVERY POSSIBLE WAY better than Divergent! The story, the characters, the theme… katniss can kick the main character’s ass back to divergent! And Jlaw is the best, she won a fricken Oscar at 22, what did shailene do???

      • Tom says:

        Do you think someone calling themselves Mockingjay Forever will be mistaken for having an ounce of objectivity? I enjoy both the Hunger Games movies and the Divergent movie. (only seen the first one so far). They are quite different in my opinion. I would say Hunger Games, especially in movie 2-3, have a better production value overall, though I really like the dystopian Chicago backdrop in Divergent. I agree with the author that the “climax” is not the greatest thing about this movie either, but rather the building up of the story. I’ll definitely be checking out the sequel, as well as the last Hunger Games movie. As I said, I find these to be completely different experiences but both good in their own way.

  33. Gimme a break says:

    How much did Summit/Lionsgate pay you to write this article? I have never before seen a movie where so many “journalists” on different sites have felt suddenly compelled to write in depth articles about the characters and the world and whatever else in this movie. It has all come across as desperate marketing. The goal to make Divergent “the next big thing” has been constant and annoying.

    • come on says:

      It still took them some time to jump the bandwagon. The Wrap was even worse with them predicting the movie would do over 70mil and then when it was obvious it won’t they wrote a piece why it still be a success even if it didn’t.

      This review here is idiotic because basicly states that “Hercules in New York” is an amazing movie thanks to the “Naive person in a new setting” rule.

  34. Alexandra says:

    Why compare Divergent with The Hunger Games?
    You think that Divergent is the superior movie, ok, it’s your opinion.

    Also I getting tired of people making Katniss less in order to highlight Tris, I’m sorry, but if you think that Katniss character is all about her skill with a bow and arrow then you’re completely lost,
    we do not how she feels about his two lovers? give me a break, she has no time to be worried about that, first she hunts illegaly in order to put food on her family table, she is always worried about someone finding out, then she takes her sister place in a deadly game, she is worried about how to get a chance of winning the game, she wins the game, but she did an act of rebellion putting her family in danger, she gets back and its only interested in her family safety, god forbid that she has more important thinks to be worried about.

    • Elise says:

      I hope you noticed that Tris DIED at the end of Allegiant to save her brother.

      • Monica says:

        Tris basically committed suicide, it did NOTHING for the plot to kill her off. pure shock value, and I dont believe it paid off. In the end was her brother better off? No. was Four better off? No. anyone? No. she wanted to become some sort of leader that could have helped the world, or at least the city she lived in and by dying she didnt really help anyone. Caleb is still going to live alone with any family with strange thoughts about being inferior and choose the ‘bad’ side. Four pretty much still have daddy issues and now has to go through life alone barely getting by emotionally and mentally….. etc.. lol.

  35. Anon says:

    The Hunger Games Metacritic: 67, Rotten Tomatoes: 84%, Opening: $152 Million
    Divergent Metacritic 48, Rotten Tomatoes: 40%, Opening: $56 Million
    The fact that everyone has to mention The Hunger Games or Twilight to even get people to talk about Divergent: Priceless

  36. Maria says:

    It’s possible to incorporate the worldbuilding alongside the actual plot. It’s called storytelling.

    • johntshea says:

      Amen! Mr Debruge’s opinions are interesting and carefully explained, but a bit dualistic, more ‘either/or’ than ‘and/too’.

      • come on says:

        The first idea that for great worldbuilding you need a naive character in a new setting actually justify a ton of bad movies. Hercules in New York, Ishtar,

  37. Pyre says:

    What is with this strangely whiny, defensive need to defend Divergent by attacking the Hunger Games? And then they miss the mark so completely with the Hunger Games that it amounts to willful misrepresentation. Like how we couldn’t get into Katniss’s head? Not the same film/performance I saw. Or how the story should have focused on the love triangle and not, you know, life and death, survival, self-sacrifice, maintaining humanity in the face of soul crushing tyranny or all that other meaningless stuff? The idea that the HG’s allegedly “failed” because it didn’t make those themes escapist enough has to go down as one of the dumbest things a film critic ever wrote. Which is saying a lot given how petty the profession seems.

  38. B. Michael Wentworth says:

    Hmmm. How about you lean forward and get a good shafting, and i’ll sit back and enjoy it.
    Idiot.

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  40. Mr. Average says:

    Your article is really about personal preferences rather than the metrics of good storytelling. For example, you prefer having a “relatable” protagonist, but that doesn’t mean that a movie without a relatable main character is automatically bad or inferior.

    • Hobbesnblue says:

      Not just personal preference, but personal opinion. I certainly didn’t find Katniss any less relatable than Tris, and we follow both of them into new worlds in a similar way (through the Choosing and into the Dauntless faction, or through the lottery into the Games). What really annoyed me was this article’s patronizing need to preach to the reader as though we need a definition of worldbuilding, or as though the concept of using an ingenue to introduce the reader to the world was some sort of revelation.

  41. Raj says:

    I haven’t seen or read Divergent, so I hope it is as good as you say since I’d like to see Woodley succeed after her wonderful turn in The Spectacular Now.

    Still, I respectfully disagree on the points you made regarding The Hunger Games movies. I actually thought that the audience was invited into everything that is Katniss in the first film. We see her world, her family, and the overwhelming spectacle of the games through her. The second is more about politics and society, and how Katniss and Peeta changed things. I liken these two films to how Batman Begins and The Dark Knight were realized, where the first film was about Bruce Wayne/Batman, and the second was about Gotham.

    I enjoyed both Hunger Games movies immensely because they took such a different approach without losing touch with its main characters and thus the emotional heartbeat of the story.

  42. John says:

    Excellent points to be made. I found Tris to just be a more real human being, not endowed with Katniss’ already honed skills of archery. Tris ‘ zip line scene is my favorite. Woodley’s face here comes off so free, the audience feels like its soaring next to her.

    • John says:

      Mind you I am commenting on your points that divergent is a good film, I think hunger games was a phenomenon that divergent won’t be ale to match out of principle, but the two do not have to compete

  43. PETER says:

    Sweet. Nice. Thanks.

  44. idklol says:

    well i only like it better cuz theo james

  45. loonquawl42 says:

    ahahahahahahahahahahah

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