The The Hunger Games franchise consists of a trilogy of young-adult books, which are being made into a quadrology of films over the next couple of years. The first chapter has already passed through cinemas and features an odd central concept: a bunch of kids is forced to kill each other until only one survives. There’s a bit of Battle Royale to be found here and even a hint of The Running Man, but those films weren’t aimed at a young audience. Admittedly, the franchise is not lauding juvenile violence and there is a societal satire lingering in the background, but still: it’s kids reading about – or watching – kids killing kids. Eepy-cray.
The story takes place in an alternate future. The brutal Hunger Games are a penalty for an uprising among part of the populace against their leaders. You are rooting against the dickey upper-class straight away, as they all sport silly haircuts and wear clothes that are way too colorful. It’s like a futuristic revenge of the eighties. By contrast, the former revolters lead a poor, minimalist, woodsy kind of existence. They have been sorted into districts and from each one a girl and a boy is selected yearly to do battle. The main heroine of the story is a girl (Katniss Everdeen) who gets drafted for these games – well, actually she volunteers; it’s complicated – and mostly because of her winning personality, she manages to gain a fan base among the viewers. She also threatens to spark another revolution, making the people who are coordinating the Hunger Games feel perturbed.
I have not read the books, but the first film has the violent central concept clashing awkwardly with an unwillingness to taint the heroine. Once Katniss gets thrown into the arena, she obviously can’t kill other innocents, but she does hang back while a small group of sociopaths does the dirty work for her. (By the way: it’s odd that a group would band together like that, as ultimately they would have to turn on each other until just one was left.) She only kills in self-defense and only people who deserve it. The writers seem to clear the way for her, taking care of any obstacle that could make her have to act immorally to survive. She’s not just lucky in this way, but also in that she tends to come across people or things that help her just as she needs them. Once you realize that the universe conspires to retain her virtue, the movie loses any edge it may have had apart from the occasional unclear or very short shot of a dead or dying kid. Very luck then, this lady, except for her love life: a complicated triangle seems to be getting set up for the sequel.
I don’t understand the mass appeal of this franchise, though it apparently has it. To me, it seems too toothless for adults and too morbid to let young-adults read or watch. But the action and the acting in the movie are okay, especially the solid performances by Jennifer Lawrence as the leading lady and by Woody Harrelson as her trainer. I guess I am curious to see where they go with it next, as this doesn’t seem like a formula you could just repeat as-is. But when the sequels roll around, they are likely to linger on my ‘I’ll get around to it’-list for a good, long while. In short: meh.