Odds are, by the time you read this, you’ll already have seen it. Possibly more than once. So let’s discuss. How about those Hunger Games, huh?!
Speaking of odds, let’s speak of odds, as they often do in The Hunger Games. “May the odds be ever in your favor,” they say. Of course, if you’re playing, the odds are never in your favor. They’re 23 to 1 that you’ll die. Murder, starvation, exposure—options do abound; it’s just that none of them are actually favorable. The only way to win is to not die. And to make sure everybody else does.
But you knew this. You knew this is what happens when pairs of adolescents from a dozen districts of some future former America, are chosen by annual lottery for a woodsy death match on live TV, which has been going on for nearly three quarters of a century now. You knew because you’ve read the first book of Suzanne Collins’ bestselling young adult sci-fi trilogy, and you’ve been waiting for the movie.
About which the best thing must be Jennifer Lawrence as its heroine, a coal miner’s daughter from District 12, where the fashion tends toward migrant-mother chic and folks glumly congregate like movie Jews en route to concentration camps. This sets them starkly apart from those foppish capital-city richies who sanction the mandatory bloodsport (and, what’s more insidious, the mandatory viewing thereof) as some twisted pillar of their decadent glam couture. Boilerplate dystopia plot aside—and the script, by Collins, Billy Ray, and director Gary Ross, has its own battles to fight against pseudo-suspense and other bloating filler—the most innocent and enduring pleasure of The Hunger Games is seeing Lawrence go so agilely through a progress of contexts in which she stands out.
It’s a great relief that she’s not just another scantily clad ass-kicker, nor a wispy nonentity torn between mythical monster men. (Although yes, a love triangle takes shape, with Josh Hutcherson as her closest opponent and Liam Hemsworth as her brooding back-home pal). Contrasting peripheral not-quite-characters played with brightly costumed monotony by Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Wes Bentley, Toby Jones, Stanley Tucci, Lenny Kravitz, and Donald Sutherland, Lawrence brings a steady presence and enough unabashed vulnerability to plausibly survive the flamboyant savagery at hand.
This is partly a parable of show business, after all. Reportedly inspired by Collins’ experience of flipping channels between war coverage and reality TV, it seems appropriately more mind-numbing than groundbreaking or actively satirical. And there’s a sense of money having been siphoned from the special-effects budget into the marketing budget. But fair enough—as you know, it is important for young people to have pop -cultural touchstones about which to feel possessive. The movie itself seems daunted by neither its provenance in Collins’ beloved books nor the precedents of its many similar ancestors. And isn’t that just the kind of fighting spirit you like to see?