Set in a dystopian future, North America is now called Panem, and is divided into districts. The further out from the major city, The Capitol, you go, the poorer the districts are. Every year, a lottery is drawn, and two 'tributes', male and female between the ages of 12 and 18, are sent from each district to compete in the Hunger Games, a fight to the death, where only one comes out alive. This is in memory, and punishment, of a previous uprising of the districts against the government. At the annual 'Reaping' Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence), volunteers in place of her younger sister Prim (Willow Shields). She and male competitor Peeta Mellark, (Josh Hutcherson) must now travel to the Capitol, impress sponsors, win public support and train as quickly as they can in order to have the best chance of surviving, knowing that even though they are from the same community, only one can return.
I have always been unsure of the casting of Jennifer Lawrence in the lead role. Thankfully, I found nothing to complain about with her performance, and it was even one of the films highlights. She has to carry a lot of the film by herself. Also impressive was Hutcherson as Peeta, who isn't the a-typical, suave love interest that you would come to expect from a franchise such as this. That job goes to Gale (Liam Hemsworth), Katniss' closest friend and hunting partner in District 12. Hints of a love triangle are present, but seeing as Gale's character doesn't have a lot to do in this film apart from watching the televised games in a few cutaways, the filmmakers can't really do more except hint at a little jealousy of Peeta on his part.
Over two hours, the film certainly doesn't feel as long as the runtime suggests, which obviously works greatly to its credit. There is a lot of build up to the actual start of the Games (with a few short lulls, but these felt negligible), and a lot of moments of real tension in the arena itself. The moment the Games begin is truly amazing - sound cuts out, and the horror of the opening bloodbath for supplies and weapons is all the more shocking, as we witness what desperate people will do in a life or death situation. What's even heartbreaking is some of the tributes look as if they are even enjoying it.
So, The Hunger Games has tension, excitement, is for the most part well-paced and a number of good performances. I never expected this film to get away without downsides however, and it definitely had them. My number one pet peeve was the use of the shaky, handheld camera (and a lot of people I know have been saying this). I understand what the filmmakers were trying to do, in emphasising the reality TV show aspect. During the second half of the film it mostly worked pretty well, but the first half used it far too much. It felt jarring and distracting a lot of the time. It was just unnecessary.
Downside number two - little details of significance weren't really explained properly. The significance of the Mockingjay pin that Katniss wears, for example. I have read the books, but it was a while ago, and I was a little unsure as to what these things meant at times.
Downside number three - I didn't connect emotionally with any of the characters as much as I should have. There were two scenes which had the most emotional impact for me - near the beginning, when Katniss volunteered for Prim. This was incredibly well-handled, and not melodramatic at all. The second was the death of one of the tributes in the Games. It's an inevitable thing - we are told from the beginning only one will come out - but this particular one (which I don't want to spoil) was really quite moving. Other than these two moments, I never really experienced any kind of emotional turbulence, and this is what would have given the film its edge.
Overall, I think the thing I expected from The Hunger Games was a popcorn flick, or a good blockbuster. This is pretty much what I got, as I had never really bought in to the hype surrounding the release. I wasn't disappointed, I had fun, and while I wouldn't rush to see it again, I wouldn't really have an objection to it either.
3.5 / 5.