Suzanne Collins’ best-selling Hunger Games trilogy has been seized upon by Hollywood as the next, big, teen-friendly franchise – and it’s terrific: smarter and tougher than Twilight – and with a heroine who couldn’t be further removed from drooping, love-struck Bella Swann.
Plucky and resourceful, Katniss Everdeen, played by Jennifer Lawrence, is a born survivor who has the misfortune to live in a dystopian future America in which a decadent elite keeps the masses in check by means of a televised contest that combines the warped exploitation of modern-day reality TV with the bloody spectacle of ancient Rome’s gladiatorial games.
Each year, the rulers of Panem, as this future America is called, demand the tribute of a young boy and a girl from the 12 districts that make up the country’s subjugated population, 24 youngsters selected to fight to the death in a savage televised tournament.
When her younger sister is chosen by lot to take part in the 74th Hunger Games, 16-year-old Katniss volunteers to take her place in the wilderness arena where her prowess with bow and arrow offers her a slim chance of survival. First, though, she is whisked from her home in dirt-poor District 12, alongside her fellow tribute, baker’s son Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), to the luxurious Capitol where the primped and preened, nipped and tucked upper classes lead grotesquely pampered lives. There she is styled for the TV cameras and prepped for combat before the deadly contest begins.
With a premise that recalls such previous sci-fi fare as The Running Man and Battle Royale, which both featured bloodcurdling game shows, The Hunger Games is far from original but in the hands of director Gary Ross it is thrilling and involving. The futuristic setting is vividly realised, from the hard-scrabble District 12 and glittering Capitol to the hi-tech wilderness in which the contestants fight to survive; and the supporting characters are striking, among them Stanley Tucci’s flamboyant blue-haired talkshow host, Elizabeth Banks’s perky, brittle escort and Woody Harrelson’s boozy dandy, the past victor who is Katniss’s mentor. But it is Lawrence – previously Oscar-nominated for her role as another grimly determined teenager battling to protect her family in Winter’s Bone – who dominates the film, displaying the grit and grace that makes us both root for her to survive and believe she can.
On general release from Friday 23rd March.
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