That is the hopeful prayer of all people recommending something with a rough beginning, or trying to justify why they stuck with said thing. Personally, I view it as a kind of criticism in its own right, never mind the intentions.
The only time that I would say it is acceptable and fulfils the purpose which it seems to, is when the beginning is merely slow. Like Lord of the Rings. It isn’t for everyone, but even people who really like it may be able to agree that the beginning is rather slow–especially if you know how the rest of the story goes.
In Final Fantasy 13, the cry of “it gets better later” is probably one of the worst examples of the answering cry, “That’s not good enough.” Twenty hours into a sixty to eighty hour game may not seem like a lot in fractions, but twenty hours in when one only has three hours of available game time a day is unacceptable. In video games, you shouldn’t end a session because you’re bored or otherwise dissatisfied. That does not speak well for the game, and it does not have the right to get better later. It should be good enough sooner than three hours in. Never mind zarking twenty.
Since movies are an infinitely smaller time investment (you would have to watch Old Boy ten times to cover twenty hours alone), this doesn’t hit them as hard or as often. But let’s say that Avengers failed to engage viewers until the big showdown in New York. That would have been a ridiculous wait time for the movie to “get good.” I don’t actually have a real example off the top of my head because I’ve only been watching actually good movies lately…
(Also, I really did like Avengers, I only used it in example because I could think of the movie in terms of events and time without a lot of effort or research.)
Books, like video games, require a significant investment of one’s time. It depends on the book, but they tend not to require as much as video games (because… Skyrim, you guys) but if you use audiobooks as a guideline to read time, then the average novel runs eight to thirteen hours.
I went back to reading Divergent. And really, it’s not so awful that I can’t finish it. I just stopped reading it back whenever because the beginning is so bloody awful. I’m in Chapter 24 now, and I’ve been trying to figure out how I feel about it. And this is the best I can come up with:
Unless the rest of the book is as brilliant as Abarat, it cannot ever squeeze past two stars. The beginning is such a soul-sucking, angry-making obstacle that I just can’t enjoy the rest of the book.
It’s like the horrible beginning took such a toll that I can only spend the rest of the book going, “Yeah? Okay. Whatever. Are you done yet?” Even when something interesting happens, all I can think about is that the pattern set very deeply by the beginning is that nothing can be interesting.
The beginning is a foundation. Not something you’re trying to just get over with–not as a reader or a writer.