A Dystopian Film Comparison: The Hunger Games (2012) vs. Divergent (2014)

Last week was a full week for TV/movies . . . I got to watch three different movies, while having just finished the book Gone Girl over the weekend before, and watching season 1 of The Killing (2011), one of AMC’s shows that has me currently obsessing over it. Originally I was going to post a review for all three films, but I got caught up in my review of Divergent (2014), so I decided it deserved its own post. As I was writing the post, I discovered it was becoming more and more of a comparison/contrast with The Hunger Games (2012) than an actual review of Divergent. So here are my thoughts and theories on the two films. (Keep in mind I’m comparing only the first Hunger Games film, not the entire franchise.)

Fans and adoring critics (adjective addition purposeful) have dubbed this past March’s dystopian offering, Divergent: a less popular version of The Hunger Games.

Here is a little chart I made up to compare the two films:

HG vs. Divergent

Now I realize this isn’t a perfect list. But comparing the two, there’s obviously a lot of similarities in the basis of how the movies’ origins came to be and the universes in which they take place. There are some distinct differences, however, that I think have been overlooked. According to the list, I noted four primary differences: setting, options for the characters’ choices, inclusion/exclusion of a love triangle, and the differences in gender roles for each movie’s primary set of characters.

Divergent takes places in a run-down Chicago, highlighting a lot of its famous architecture and sites, including the ferris wheel at Navy Pier. The setting of The Hunger Games includes futuristic locations created by the author, Suzanne Collins. There are twelve districts in which the world is divided, and there is arena where the games take place. This difference alone gives each movie a different feel. You’re taken with the world created for The Hunger Games, but for those who know Chicago or are from the area, might really appreciate moments, such as when Tris (Shailene Woodley) and the rest of the Dauntless recruits climb one of the major bridges downtown Chicago to run onto the moving L-train.

One other major difference is crucial, because it affects how the protagonist deals with issues. In The Hunger Games, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), who is under the age of 18, is forced to participate in the annual Reaping, where two unlucky souls are forced to fight to the death in the hunger games, which the book and film franchise is so aptly named from. Katniss’s sister’s name is drawn, forcing Katniss into the position of either watching her sister die, or take her place. Tris, on the other hand, is given a choice to select exactly which group she wants to become a part of. It’s almost like joining a college society . . . you get a choice, but once you choose, you’re in for life (or for the rest of your college experience, in that case).

My favorite difference between the two franchises, and one thing I enjoyed in Divergent more than The Hunger Games is that the former opted not to have the ever annoying cliche love triangle. It’s a personal preference on my end, but I think it places more of the viewers’ focus on the protagonist and his/her mission versus taking the attention away from the A-plot to focus on another character’s feelings. I’m not saying I don’t like love triangles, but for me, I felt like Divergent‘s storyline worked well without one.

Perhaps one of the most obvious and interesting differences between the two films is the way gender roles were handled among the main cast. Let’s start with the game changer: THG‘s Katniss and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) do not fulfill the typical male/female hero and damsel roles.Katniss is ultimately the hero, but not just because she’s the protagonist of the story. She’s the leading lady, yes, but she’s also the epitome of the physical strength in the film. She’s brash and unlikeable at times, but she’s smart, physically fit, and she knows how to fight. She could win in The Hunger Games, because after all, it is survival of the fittest. Peeta, on the other hand, isn’t the strongest guy. Sure, he can throw a rock, but his background as a baker’s son has made him the coolest icing artist in District 12. But that doesn’t exactly scream for allies in the games or send the message that he’s intimidating and tough to mess with. Instead, he shows emotional strength that Katniss lacks, the character trait one would usually associate with a female. Peeta makes poor decisions when it comes to hunting and fighting, but he’s in touch with his feelings and he cares. Divergent‘s characters do, however, take more of the straight and narrow route. Tris isn’t physically strong, but with the help of Four (Theo James), she’s able to improve her fighting skills. Four rescues Tris from others trying to kill her. Yet Tris remains the star of Divergent, even if at times, she leans on Four for help, who gladly aids her in the end. I like how each franchise handles these roles, but I appreciate the differences as well. Personally, I feel like Tris and Four’s relationship is handled with less force than Katniss and Peeta’s, thus making it come across more natural on screen.

In summary, I think The Hunger Games‘s plot proved more intense to watch for me, which kept me on the edge of my seat, whereas I feel like Divergent may have had an even better idea, but it didn’t have the money, charisma, or right timing to win over critics.  It’s really the fans of the book that most likely led the way into the premiere (I didn’t read the book yet), and I think the franchise definitely has a place in Hollywood, even though it will probably never attract the kind of attention and adoration The Hunger Games has already acclaimed. That said, I think Shailene Woodley has proven herself a worthy leading lady, and no doubt she will be a huge plug for the sequels after her success with The Fault in Our Stars (2014).

Now it’s your turn. What did you think of Divergent? How do you think the movie lines up next to The Hunger Games? Which one did you enjoy more? Please join the discussion below, because I would love to know your thoughts!

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8 thoughts on “A Dystopian Film Comparison: The Hunger Games (2012) vs. Divergent (2014)

  1. Hi Kris! Great idea for a post here. Y’know I enjoyed Divergent but overall I think the story of Hunger Games is stronger and I feel that there’s more at stake for the characters there. Plus Donald Sutherland made for quite an eerie villain compared to Winslet. I do think the concept of Divergent has a lot of potential but the execution is just ok, not great. I do think Theo James is a far more compelling male lead tho, in terms of eye candy anyway 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Ruth! I can see what you’re saying about the stories of the two . . . with Hunger Games, it feels like there’s more at stake. Unfortunately, Kate Winslet did not come across as a compelling villain in Divergent at all. Haha, I’m with you on Theo James too 😉

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