"The Next 'Hunger Games.'" No doubt, you've heard a number of YA book-to-film adaptations being pegged with that little moniker — in fact, the phrase has now reached a point of total exhaustion thanks to everyone and their brother using it with reference to the latest (and most promising) post-Panem franchise hopeful, "Divergent" by Veronica Roth.
Granted, some of the comparisons are warranted. Like "The Hunger Games," "Divergent" is based on a best-selling dystopian trilogy wherein the given futuristic society has been split into sub-groups tasked with certain basic functionalities and purposes. Also, this series does have a teenage girl with guts for days at the core of its action-packed narrative – a construct which is still unfortunately pretty rare in the cinematic universe. Oh, and it is being produced in-house by Summit Entertainment, whose parent company Lionsgate is the very same studio responsible for Katniss Everdeen & Co.
So, we get why there is a bit of perceived overlapping between the two.
Yet, there are also some pretty significant ways in which the "Divergent" story world stands in its own little arena, so to speak, and is not just some reiteration of "The Hunger Games" meant to capitol-ize (see what we did there?) on its whirlwind popularity and success.
1. Love Triangle-lessness
No one would accuse Katniss Everdeen of being some generic love-struck teenager caught up in a tug-of-war between boy crushes, but she does spend a chunk of time mentally sparring with herself over who her real affection belongs with. It's not priority number one for her — basic survival takes that cake — but the emotional conflict is there nonetheless.
With "Divergent," however, a love triangle is (rejoice!) avoided altogether by authorial design. As Veronica Roth explained, "Love triangles are great, but they’re just not a Tris thing. She’s just so focused on what she wants."
What Tris (Shailene Woodley in the film) wants is to defy the odds and transition from a tiny, meek member of the selfless governance community into a knife-wielding warrior who hops from moving trains with the best of 'em and isn't afraid to zip-line from very, very tall abandoned skyscrapers.
All that and she's only got eyes for her hunky, tatted trainer Four (Theo James) — hey, we didn't say there was no love story at all here, just that it wasn't complicated by a third party as so many are.
2. Low Tech
Unlike Panem – which is a massive nation filled with seemingly endless gadgetry to advance the story – the "Divergent" landscape is very limited in both scope and technology.
It takes place exclusively within a deadened and dried up former Chicago, fenced in for some reason unknown to the characters, so the people we meet in the story are often constrained by what would actually be laying around such a place 150 years or so from now – like dilapidated bridges, old buildings sometimes without power or windows, abandoned grocery stores with a few canned goods left over, and such. No parachutes with magic burn ointment or hovercrafts floating around to simplify some plot movement, then.
3. Utopian Approach
Prezzy Snow rules his land with a cruel fist – forcing the districts to exist in gradations of enslavement for the spoiled citizens of the Capitol – but everyone in the "Divergent" city theoretically starts out on equal footing.
It's a set-up meant to encourage peace and a sense of free will — not some oppressive and violent hellscape that demands revolt at the outset. The problems of this society emerge gradually at the behest of a disgruntled few, so the scope of conflict is not quite so political as it is within the "Games." In other words, here is a system worth protecting from its few bad eggs — not one that needs to be dismantled altogether for being so patently unfair.
4. Brain Games
It's also worth pointing out that much of "Divergent" is very cerebral in nature — a relatively unique direction for this series among its YA contemps. Whereas Katniss' strength lies mostly in her physical ability to make camp and climb trees and bow hunt like nobody's business, Tris's biggest asset is a solid mental game.
Sure, she has to throw a mean fist here and there as well, but this is a girl who essentially wins out by training her mind to stay calm even when her fear landscapes do their very worst.
The bigger picture, too, involves a lot of mental manipulation. Forget starvation and forcing children to kill each other as means of control, the wannabe dictator of the "Divergent" crew – spoiler: that'd be Kate Winslet's Jeanine Matthews — relies on mind control serums to get her way.
5. No "Hero"
The genesis and arc of Tris' story in "Divergent" is her choice to join up with the Dauntless faction she'd been admiring from afar — not so that she could serve with the protective detail core and help keep things in line or anything quite so noble, but because she simply wanted to embrace her inner selfishness and bravery.
"What I like about Tris is that she isn't perfect," said Shailene Woodley about her big screen counterpart. "She's not a superhero; she's not Katniss. She doesn't know how to shoot a bow and arrow, she's not a badass by nature."
Of course, when push comes to shove, Tris will step up to do the best she can for what she thinks is right, but at her core this is not a girl volunteering for certain death to protect her baby sister or facing down the dangers of the Cornucopia to save her ailing ally; this is someone who essentially just wants to be wild and free.
Anything you'd like to add? Hit the comments and let us know whether you think "Divergent" diverges enough from "The Hunger Games" or not.
"Divergent" hits theaters on March 21.