'Hunger Games': To like the movie, do you have to read the book? (+trailer)

Hunger Games reviews from movie critics have been largely positive. Reviewers praise the tough message of the Hunger Games, and the actors' performances.

Murray Close/HONS/Lionsgate/AP
Reviewers universally praised Jennifer Lawrence's performance in 'Hunger Games.'

The film adaptation of the Suzanne Collins novel “The Hunger Games” doesn’t hit theaters until Friday. But the hype is wall-to-wall and many of the movie reviews by film critics are in. The verdict? The movie looks to be a winner whether you’ve read the book or not.

For most reviews, “Hunger Games,” which has currently sold more advance tickets than any non-sequel, scored ratings of at least four out of five stars, three out of four stars, and a few "A" grades. Critics particularly praised actress Jennifer Lawrence’s performance as heroine Katniss Everdeen, who volunteers to replace her sister in the deadly Hunger Games run by a dystopian government.

“At its center is Jennifer Lawrence, an ideal choice to play this strong, independent young woman,” Associated Press reviewer Christy LeMire wrote of the film. “There’s a youthful energy and even a vulnerability that make her relatable to the core, target audience of female fans. Lawrence is endlessly watchable." 

Chicago Tribune reviewer Michael Phillips said he would praise Lawrence as the best thing in the film if the rest wasn’t equally as good. 

“The young actress received an Oscar nomination for her work in "Winter's Bone," and her performance here is no less fierce and purposeful,” he wrote. 

Entertainment Weekly’s Lisa Schwarzbaum agreed: “Jennifer Lawrence… is, in her gravity, her intensity, and her own unmannered beauty, about as impressive a Hollywood incarnation of Katniss as one could ever imagine,” Schwarzbaum wrote.

Reviewers also agreed that director Gary Ross’s film treatment of the source material keeps the societal commentary of author Suzanne Collins’ original trilogy.

“So-called reality TV is given a sharp, satirical kick as Tributes learn to play and pander to hidden cameras,” writes Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers.

Guardian critic Xan Brooks wrote that “[Ross] rustles up a film that is harsh and satisfying; a candy-coated entertainment with a chip of ice at the centre."

Also praised: the supporting cast, which includes stars like Elizabeth Banks as perky contestant escort Effie Trinket, Woody Harrelson as alcoholic mentor Haymitch Abernathy, and Stanley Tucci as unctuous TV host Caesar Flickerman, of whom Phillips writes, “Nothing in "The Hunger Games" is more frightening than Tucci's smile.”

The AP's LeMire, however, did complain that the less-attractive behavior of the character Haymitch, who spends much of the beginning of the novel intoxicated or suffering the after-effects of it, were toned down for the film. “The character’s rough edges have been buffed significantly and it’s not an improvement,” LeMire writes. 

A different heroine than Twilight

The books and movies have been compared to the last boffo young adult series, Twilight, which centered on the teenager Bella Swan and the tortured love triangle made up of her, vampire Edward and werewolf Jacob. Many suggest that “Games” will appeal most to female teenagers.

“Teenage girls are going to love this film — so much so that I wouldn’t mind betting it will be the first in a very profitable franchise,” Daily Mail critic Chris Tookey wrote.

But many reviewers pointed out the positive (in their eyes) differences between “Games” and the vampire saga featuring mopey Bella Swan. “Katniss makes Twilight's Bella Swan look like the wimp she is,” Travers writes. Telegraph critic Robbie Collins noted that “both teenage heroines journey deep into the woods at dusk, but while Twilight's Bella returns flanked by bickering supernatural beefcake, Katniss emerges alone, smeared in blood and muck and gnawing on the charred remains of a spatchcocked squirrel.” 

Some critics also had problems with the film’s ending, which apparently differs in some way from the novel. “Only at the end does the director falter, hindered by the demands of franchise film production (there are three books in the series) and bowing out with a whimper not a bang,” Brooks wrote of Ross.

But so far, response to the movie has been overwhelmingly positive. Fans can take a deep breath and buy their midnight tickets – if there are any left, that is. 

Molly Driscoll is a Monitor contributor.

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