The Hunger Games – a sci-fi epic for our times
Spectacle, romance, suspense - and the brilliant Jennifer Lawrence as a female warrior to cheer
What you need to know
The Hunger Games is a sci-fi action thriller adapted from the first of a three-part series of best-selling young adult novels by Suzanne Collins. The film is directed by Gary Ross (Pleasantville and Seabiscuit).
The story is set in the futuristic nation of Panem, in the ruins of what was once North America. Each year, each of its 12 districts must give up a teenage boy or girl to compete in the deadly Hunger Games. Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take the place of her younger sister in the televised event where she must compete to survive.
Jennifer Lawrence, star of Winter's Bone, plays the beleaguered heroine Katniss. Woody Harrelson plays her mentor. There are also appearances from Lenny Kravitz as a stylist, Stanley Tucci as a TV commentator and Donald Sutherland as an evil president.
What the critics like
Gary Ross's provocative, pulse-surgingly tense adaptation couldn't feel fresher, or timelier, says Robbie Collins in The Daily Telegraph. You can't take your eyes off Jennifer Lawrence as "the ox-hearted, mud-freckled Katniss", who is even more compelling here than she was in her Oscar-nominated performance in Winter's Bone. This is "perhaps the essential science fiction film of our times".
We have a winner, says Peter Travers in Rolling Stone. The screen version is irresistible. "It has epic spectacle, yearning romance, suspense that won't quit and a shining star in Jennifer Lawrence, who gives us a female warrior worth cheering."
It's a rare beast, says Xan Brooks in the Guardian, "a Hollywood action blockbuster that is smart, taut and knotty". It's a compelling, lightly satirical tale of a post-apocalyptic entertainment industry, with a stoic, solemn performance from Lawrence. "Candy-coated entertainment with a chip of ice at the centre".
What they don't like
The perils of allowing a successful author to adapt their own work for the screen are demonstrated here, says Tom Huddleston in Time Out. This is a gripping action movie, but its "adherence to finicky details in the novel" leaves little time to explore the complex world or the characters who inhabit it.
The film only falters at the end, says Brooks in the Guardian. Hindered by the demands of franchise film production and the possibility of potential sequels, Hunger Games bows out "with a whimper not a bang".
There is no ending, says Andrew O'Hehir in Salon. "The story reaches a certain point and the curtain simply drops." Wait another year, buy another ticket and you'll get another chapter. "Maybe I'm old-fashioned," adds O'Hehir, "but that just seems mean".