03/23/2012 04:01 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

ReThink Review: The Hunger Games -- Kid Gloves Come Off

The Hunger Games is based on the first installment of the young adult book series whose popularity rivals that of the Twilight and perhaps even the Harry Potter franchises. The books follow Katniss Everdeen, a 16-year-old played in the film by Jennifer Lawrence, who volunteers to compete in a deadly game where 24 teenagers from the 12 districts of a dystopian United States (re-named Panem) fight to the death until only one remains. Watch the trailer for The Hunger Games below.

When a teenage literary phenomenon emerges, I'm always curious about what young people are connecting with so powerfully that they're willing to wait in long lines until midnight to buy a book. The Twilight series seems to be very much about the all-encompassing nature of teenage love and lust, which at that age are almost indistinguishable, with some supernatural forces and intrigue thrown in to put the series' damsel in adequate distress. With Harry Potter, don't we all wish we had magic powers, a group of good friends to solve mysteries with, and that not only do we have amazing natural talents, but that we'll be sent to a special school to develop them? Author J.K. Rowling also deserves much credit for creating such a fascinating, detailed world and exploring themes that grew in maturity with both the characters and the books' readers.

But what to make of The Hunger Games? In the story, Katniss lives in impoverished coal mining District 12, where she uses her intelligence, toughness and hunting skills to care for her younger sister, Primrose (Willow Shields), eventually volunteering to take Primrose's place when she's selected to be a Hunger Games contestant, also known as a tribute. Katniss and the male District 12 tribute, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), are taken to the futuristic capitol, whose citizens live in grotesque opulence while ignoring the rest of the nation's suffering.

The Games themselves are a spectacle watched by all of Panem's citizens, particularly those in the capitol, so naturally Katniss and Peeta are assigned a PR person and minder (Elizabeth Banks), a stylist (Lenny Kravitz) and a trainer (Woody Harrelson) who is the last Hunger Games winner from District 12. Just as important as their physical training, the tributes must also learn to play the media game, since their attractiveness, likability and compelling personal stories can earn them important advantages during the competition.

The Hunger Games is steeped in the languages of reality television and instant celebrity, which young people speak fluently. When the games finally begin in a simulated forest, they're remarkably brutal, especially for a PG-13 film, but I'm sure kids growing up today are sadly familiar with the cruelty teenagers and their cliques are capable of.

Before the Games start, Peeta expresses to Katniss that he doesn't want the glamor of the capital, the glare of the spotlight, and the viciousness of the games to change him, even if he doesn't survive. Katniss, who has struggled for most of her life to keep herself and her family alive, claims this is a luxury she can't afford. But faced with the most powerful and effective symbol of the capitol's efforts to keep its citizens subjugated and distracted, Katniss realizes that abandoning her character and humanity for the sake of survival and the dream of riches is exactly what her oppressors want.

However, a lot of these ideas go unsaid (or at least under-said), in the movie, presumably to be fleshed out more in the upcoming sequels. And without the first-person narrative of Suzanne Collins' book, much of Katniss' feelings about her situation -- including a potential love triangle between Peeta, Katniss, and her hunky best friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth) back home -- feel underdeveloped, despite Lawrence's undeniable talents. Still, the fact that both boys and girls have embraced this story, which features possibly the strongest female character in literary history who would rather challenge the capitol's wealthy, exploitive, decadent 1 percenters than join them, certainly speaks well of their generation.