Following the footsteps of both the good (Harry Potter) and the bad (Twilight), The Hunger Games is yet another young adult fiction adaptation of the book of the same name. It brings us to the world of Panem, a totalitarian North America, which following a crippling civil war 74 years previous, has been divided into 12 Districts united under the privileged Capitol. And as a reminder of the uprising, two “tributes” are selected from each District to fight to the death in the annually televised Hunger Games. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook, X-Men: First Class) volunteers in place of her younger sister, and we witness as she is forced to play out this savage game.
I felt that the subject matter was quite intense considering the target audience, and that the producers of the film should be applauded for respecting the maturity of the teenage audience towards strong themes such as oppressive dictatorships, constant surveillance and Darwinism. But one of the biggest flaws in this regard is that most of these issues are glossed over a little, and sacrificed for character relationships.
The film would be meaningless without a strong central character, and Lawrence clearly demonstrates her Oscar calibre by not only creating an independent female protagonist, yet also a shining example of a role model for the current generation. This is the perfect antidote for a certain other franchise lead that is indecisive and expressionless, and needs a strong, attractive man to make her life choices. Unfortunately, the supporting cast is a little of a mixed bag here. Both of the male leads (Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth as Peeta Mellark and Gale Hawthorne respectively) are significantly underused, with the former gormlessly gazing at Katniss as her lovelorn co-competitor, and the latter just sitting in a field for the entire movie. This forms part of the series’ central love-triangle, and it just seems pointless, considering the way that it is handled and the amount of time spent on it.
The other supporting roles show so much promise, yet are given disappointing amounts of screen time. Elizabeth Banks (Role Models) gives a delightfully extravagant and eccentric turn as District 12 games co-ordinator Effie Trinket, and Woody Harrelson (Now You See Me) is brilliant as the sardonic alcoholic mentor Haymitch Apernathy. But easily the most entertaining is Stanley Tucci (The Lovely Bones) as chat show host and commentator Caesar Flickerman. Tucci is ridiculously camp and excessive; Flickerman is what I imagine Graham Norton would be like on an acid trip.
However, the general direction of the film is a bit iffy. The use of shaky cam for the action scenes detracts from the film, distracting the audience from what happens on screen. And considering The Hunger Games is focuses around child-on-child violence, none of the deaths have any emotional impact, with one in particular that was meant to be significant, but ended up being ineffectual due to poor character development and mismanaged parallelism.
All in all, The Hunger Games is a mixed bag. It tries to convey serious topics to varying degrees of success, and some parts of the plot felt undercooked. Jennifer Lawrence gives an amazingly layered central performance, and Stanley Tucci leads the charge of a varied, yet tragically underdeveloped central cast. The Hunger Games sets the groundwork of what could be a promising Young Adult series, but it struggles to hold its own as a stand-alone film.