When we first step into the world of “The Hunger Games,” we see the dystopian side of it: a dreary poverty-stricken environment in shades of gray. It is an environment that reminds us of the Jewish ghettos in Poland during World War II or the segregated townships during apartheid in South Africa.
These are the circumstances from which Katniss Everdeen comes from just before she is forced to step into the colorful, but artificial, utopian world of the Capitol.
The resourcefulness and strong will that comes from living such a strenuous life becomes useful for Katniss when she must fight to the death in the violent Hunger Games. The games are an annual, nationally televised tradition that requires 24 teenagers from the 12 outlying districts to fight in a battle in which only one can survive.
Based on the extremely popular book series by Suzanne Collins that I have not read, “The Hunger Games” is sure to be the beginning of a megahit Hollywood franchise. That it is why it is surprising and refreshing to finally see a Hollywood franchise that features a strong female lead who does not rely on the men around her to succeed. If you have seen the movie you’ll notice it is actually the other way around. Katniss is a female who can hold her own, and then some.
Jennifer Lawrence does an astounding job getting across the subtle ambiguities of Katniss’ feelings, especially toward Peeta, her male counterpart from the same district. Peeta has feelings for Katniss, but that romantic subplot is much more sophisticated than I would expect from a big Hollywood franchise based on a young adult book.
The romance ties into the biting social commentary on our culture of reality television. The audience of the games has the opportunity to send supplies to their favorite contestants, so it pays to be liked. Katniss knows audiences love a situation involving star-crossed lovers, so the movie always keeps us on our toes questioning how genuine the romance is.
But the movie does unfortunately share one quality with other Hollywood franchises. Many characters are introduced but play no significant part in the proceedings of the film. It is obvious that many of these characters, like Liam Hemsworth’s character, are only introduced either because they will be more important in later movies, or just as a service to fans of the book.
It is likely that many of these supporting characters who are introduced only to be glossed over will play a larger part in later movies, so it may not be right to judge. But as the first film in the series I would have preferred “The Hunger Games” to stand alone instead of simply assuming sequels are to come.
Another problem in the movie is that the script takes a few too many short cuts. The most significant example is Cato, the antagonist of the games, whose character is laughably one-dimensional. Coupled with director Gary Ross’ annoying handheld shaky cam that renders all action scenes undecipherable, this makes the final showdown of the games feel fairly anti-climactic.
I cannot say “The Hunger Games” is epic or all that emotional, because it does have its fair share of flaws when it comes to storytelling. However, Katniss' refreshing sophistication and the movie's critique of the world around her are so admirable that it mostly outweighs the flaws of the story.
I am not sure I would say “The Hunger Games” is deserving of its monstrous popularity based on the movie alone, but at least its popularity does not make me ashamed of society like that one phenomenon about the glittery vampires.