Is ‘Divergent’ the Next ‘Hunger Games’?

Given the year-long lull between Hunger Games films, YA addicts have been scrambling for a fix. It comes this weekend with the release of Divergent (March 21), the first film in a trilogy inspired by Veronica Roth’s dystopian-romance novels. (If you’re bringing a guy along, tell him there’s knife throwing and street fighting.)

But can the new series live up to the serious hype of The Hunger Games? We pit them against each other in our own Culture Binge Arena.

My Dystopia Is Worse Than Yours
Divergent
The former city of Chicago, now centuries in the future, has been divided into five factions to keep the peace. People are  either members of Erudite (the intellegencia, also the city’s teachers and scientists), Amity (peaceful farmers), Candor (overly honest, loud-mouthed lawyers), Abnegation (the selfless, who form the city’s government), or Dauntless (the bold and brave, security forces).
Hunger Games Panem, a post-apocalyptic nation formed in the western reaches of the former United States, is divided into 12 Districts, each with its own function (agriculture, mining, fishing, textiles, making weapons, etc). A totalitarian ruler, President Snow, quashes any spark of rebellion by forcing two children from each district to fight to the death in the annual Hunger Games.
Advantage Hunger Games. That whole “kids fight to the death” thing is pretty bleak.

Four (Theo James) and Tris (Shailene Woodley)
Four (Theo James) and Tris (Shailene Woodley)

Fierce Heroines
Divergent Beatrice “Tris” Prior is a meek-and-mild member of Abnegation taps into her inner Xena Warrior Princess when she turns 16 and joins Dauntless. Played onscreen by 22-year-old Shailene Woodley, she of long, flowing hair and The Secret Life of the American Teenager.
Hunger Games Katniss Everdeen is a cool, no-nonsense hardass who supports her mother and younger sister by hunting game in the forest outside District 12. Played onscreen by Jennifer Lawrence, a 23-year-old Oscar winner and everyone’s wannabe best friend/spirit animal.
Advantage Are you kidding? Hunger Games.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence)
Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence)

Girls with Skills
Hunger Games Katniss can shoot a bow like she’s an Olympic archer, build a fire, skin a squirrel, sing on key, and make boys cry.
Divergent Tris can toss knives, shoot a gun, fight dudes, withstand a tattoo needle, climb great heights, and resist mind-altering drugs.
Advantage Divergent.

Made-for-Movie Action Sequences
Divergent
Climbing a Ferris wheel, ziplining from the top of Chicago’s Hancock building, jumping on and off trains, and navigating a fear landscape that’s basically a hallucinogen-induced obstacle course through your worst nightmares.
Hunger Games The Arena.
Advantage Draw.

Love Story
Hunger Games A love triangle that 1) is a strategic play to stay alive in the Arena, 2) keeps President Snow off their backs, and 3) is kinda sorta something special.
Divergent Relationships born of lusty teenage hormones and a full-back tattoo. Every. Touch. Is. MAGICAL!!!
Advantage Hunger Games.

Sidekicks
Divergent Tris’s BFFs — Christina, Will, Al, Four — are all Dauntless warriors in their own right, each with an extra skill (Will is bright, Al is a gentle giant, Christina can sniff out the truth and run quickly, Four is a reluctant leader and a hunk).
Hunger Games Peeta bakes delicious pastries, Haymitch appreciates a fine whiskey, Rue is good at hiding, Cinna makes gorgeous dresses….oh, forget it. Katniss is on her own.
Advantage Divergent.

Villain
Divergent Jeanine Matthews (played by Kate Winslet), leader of the Erudite, has the biggest brain in the land and a utilitarian approach to the greater good. She’ll take drastic measures to rid the city of its factionless/homeless and its outliers, or Divergent.
Hunger Games President Snow (played by Donald Sutherland) gets a sick kick out of orchestrating the Hunger Games and squashing hope across Panem. His beard can’t be trusted either.
Advantage Hunger Games.

The Trilogy
Divergent Starts off strong. Second novel Insurgent is forgettable (and I just read it). Allegiant creates a clever world “outside the fence” but has an insanely disappointing ending.
Hunger Games Starts off strong. Second novel Catching Fire is a snooze fest until the Arena. Mockingjay is a mixed bag of high-stakes rebellion and long, long walks down alleyways.
Advantage Hunger Games.

Final tally: Hungers Games – 5. Divergent – 2. One draw.

The real winner: Lionsgate, for producing both film series and laughing all the way to the bank.

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