In a post-apocalyptic North America, a fascist republic rules by fear, oppression, and bread and circuses. Its tributary states ("districts"), each forced to specialise in the supply of raw materials or manufacture of goods to the Capitol, are required to send a teenage boy and girl each year to participate in its lavish, widely telecast Hunger Games where these "tributes" will all duel each other to the death. And even though the tributary states are kept at a 19th-Century technological level, the Capitol provides everyone with spanking huge LCD monitors that can stream the Games live. This serves as entertainment to pacify the populace as well as a secular ritual that impresses a climate of fear upon the spectators, wherever they are.
As a piece in this well-established genre, The Hunger Games as a film adds very little to what has already been said about the savage nature of humanity and the modern addiction to the spectacle by films like The 10th Victim, The Running Man, and Battle Royale. As a novel and a film for the young adult audience though, The Hunger Games serves as a good introduction to the genre and a few political and philosophical issues it tackles – while remaining PG, young adult-friendly.
This isn't to say that The Hunger Games is a watered-down version of the films I've just mentioned. The Hunger Games can be appreciated as a magnificent piece of visual art. The film's virtues extend beyond good cinematography, which one can enjoy as the teens start hunting and killing each other in the forest arena. How do we know that the republic is pure evil and fascist to boot? Not through scenes of brutal suppression and storm-trooper guards (of which there are none) but through the film's futuristic neoclassical architectural designs, which borrow heavily from Albert Speer. How do we know the dictator is the smartest and deadliest guy in the room? He looks like everyone's genial grandfather!
For a popcorn flick with a paint-by-numbers story aimed at a young adult audience, so much attention is paid to detail that it outdoes itself.