Rarely has a movie been so punishingly hyped as The Hunger Games, based on Suzanne Collins' exceedingly popular book trilogy. But with some critics raving that the upcoming big-screen adaptation is "everything you hoped for and more," nervous fans of the novels may be breathing easier. Set in the dystopian country of Panem, The Hunger Games focuses on Katniss Everdeen (played by Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence), a headstrong 16-year-old who is drafted to fight to the death alongside 23 other teenagers (called "tributes") in a terrifying government-sponsored reality TV show. Part action epic, part teen romance, the film co-stars Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, and Woody Harrelson. Will the mobs who'll swarm theaters Thursday for the film's first midnight screenings be satisfied?

The Hunger Games is nearly perfect: The film is "as tough-spirited as fans would hope," more thought-provoking than the typical blockbuster, and more serious than the tween hysteria it's provoked would have you believe, says David Hinckley at New York's Daily News. The horrific battle scenes are neither glamorized nor sanitized, making the film even scarier than the book. And skeptics will be pleased that the central love triangle is far more affecting than Twilight's. "For all the media's salivating, Hunger Games delivers — and leaves a memorable aftertaste."
"Movie review: The Hunger Games"

And Jennifer Lawrence is outstanding: The film's considerable success hinges on Lawrence's astonishing performance, says Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly. Though the wardrobe and makeup crews help her nail the way tomboy Katniss morphs into a warring swan, credit Lawrence for creating a "strong, self-possessed" heroine. She's engrossing in her many silent, introspective scenes, and attacks the battle sequences with athletic confidence. The actress is "as impressive a Hollywood incarnation of Katniss as one could ever imagine."
"The Hunger Games"

But the movie plays it too safe: With its provocative social commentary and terrifying action passages, Collins' novel was "bold, daring entertainment," says Rene Rodriguez at The Miami Herald. The film, however, is merely "pajama-party fodder." While the Harry Potter movies truly brought J.K. Rowling's words to life, this unimaginative, short-on-vision adaptation is nothing but "a way to cash in on the novel." As science-fiction, it's bland; as an action piece, it's generic; as a blockbuster, it's "technically adequate but devoid of any wit or insight."
"The Hunger Games"