The first reviews for “The Hunger Games” — the most anticipated film ever made about a violent, government-sanctioned reality show — are beginning to trickle onto the Internet. As a result, it’s fair to say the Katniss Everdeening of America has now officially commenced.
In what will surely count as great news to fans of Suzanne Collins’s popular young adult novels, not to mention the executives at Lionsgate, the reviews are overwhelmingly positive. With 33 critical assessments published since the review embargo broke early this morning, Rotten Tomatoes currently shows that the film has a 97 percent fresh rating — only one negative review so far.
Post film critic Ann Hornaday will weigh in with her take in the coming days. (Update: Hornaday’s review is in.) And I will engage in an analysis of the film with Monica Hesse and Melissa Bell — akin to the one we did for “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1” — that will be published very soon in this blog, as well.
In the meantime, here’s a roundup of some of the early critiques of “The Hunger Games.”
Christy Lemire of the Associated Press praises the film for maintaining its suspense even for those who already know full well how this story goes: “‘The Hunger Games’ runs nearly two and a half hours in length but is the rare film that never drags and doesn't overstay its welcome. It could keep running as long as Katniss does, and we'd want to be right there every heart-pounding step of the way.”
Joe Neumaier of the New York Daily News gives the film five stars out of five: “It’s better and scarier than its source book, and aims an angry eye at our bloodthirsty, watch-anything-and-cheer culture.”
Like virtually every review, even the single lousy one (more on that later), Drew McWeeney of HitFix praises Jennifer Lawrence’s portrayal of the main character: “The thing that finally pushes ‘The Hunger Games’ over the top is the performance by Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen ... it is a pure movie star performance, and Lawrence rises to the occasion.” (Expect the conversation about whether Lawrence’s work is worthy of awards season consideration to start now, if it hasn’t already.)
Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter plays the “Twilight” comparison card right out of the gate, noting that “Hunger Games” should have no trouble matching Stephenie Meyers’s vampire saga at the box office: “This Lionsgate release is being positioned as the hottest property for the teen audience since ‘Twilight,’ and there's no reason to believe that box office results won't land roughly in that vaunted vicinity.”
Olly Richards of Empire Magazine sums up the quality of this adaptation thusly: “When a series has sold millions of copies, as Suzanne Collins’ trilogy has, the default position is to produce something that will look just as readers imagined, to show what we were all thinking, rather than offer something nobody had considered. ‘The Hunger Games’ as a novel has been dissected, expanded and retooled into something intelligent, immersive and powerfully current.”
So who’s the single naysayer? No, it’s not Armond White. (He has yet to voice his opinion.) The bad review comes from Cole Smithey, whose Web site boldly dubs him “the smartest film critic in the world.”
“Slack pacing, poorly developed subplots, shabby camerawork and miscasting dog the movie,” he writes, later adding, “If not for Jennifer Lawrence’s ever-commanding performance, there would be no redeeming value for a movie that goes on two-and-a-half hours too long.”
We’ll have to see if other detractors join Smithey’s camp. Either way, as McCarthy noted, “Hunger Games” remains poised to dominate the box office, not to mention the cultural conversation, throughout the weekend ahead.