The future will be like the present but even nastier, with one giant entity embodying the worst of government and the worst of corporations fused together into an unfightable tyranny-blob, populated by dirt-poor scroungers crushed by a very rich ruling class. The future will also be like the past, because those dirt-poors will live in shacks with no bathrooms and everybody will survive on squirrel meat, half-poison berries and no Internet. For the people on the other side of the great money divide, the future will be a wacky discotheque piled high with cakes and sartorial frippery, like the court of Marie Antoinette cross-bred with the shrieking lunacy of the brain-scrambling cult 1980 musical, The Apple. Nothing for miles but beard-glitter, face powder, green cocktails and people constantly exclaiming, "Ooo-OOO-ooh!"
It's probably fleshed out properly in the book I haven't read (and no, I don't need any sales pitches, I never cracked a Harry Potter book, either) but for reasons that remain sort of movie-mysterious, a decades-old rebellion has broken up the country into districts. The richest district dominates the poor ones, depriving them of food and dangling reality-show fame and wealth like a carrot on a stick for the teen "Tributes" who annually fight to the death in what are known as the Hunger Games. Enter Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence, a great Winter's Bone-propelled casting choice who nevertheless looks a little too healthy for a scenario of near-starvation), a girl who's got Artemis-meets-Geena-Davis archery skills and who volunteers for the games to save the life of her little sister.
There are more plot convolutions as the battle royale commences, too many to spend time on here, really, along with a front-seat allegory about Haves and Have Nots that couldn't be more current or more honkingly unwilling to remain chill about its rightful subtextual status. That means subtlety is not what you're in for, which is kind of a given when you understand it all as a breathless action-adventure-survival story performing multiple duties as a teenage toe-dip into politics and Occupy Wall Street-style ideas about corporate manipulation and media collusion, lessons in getting by and fables about finding the personal power to fight back against The Man. There are too many plot threads and Big Themes to hammer down, there's no room on the menu for finer details.
What you will be served, though, is stern entertainment (save for Elizabeth Banks and Stanley Tucci clowning it up) that never stops moving and keeps shoving you forward, where you'll find yourself both dragged along and compelled to keep watching even though you can spot a predictable resolution from a long distance. There are sequels on the way, of course, and those next installments absolutely necessitate Katniss's initial victory. Yet in spite of this fairly obvious outcome, Lawrence is a kind of millennial Wonder Woman with a major case of Serious-itis and a screen presence that demands you stay on her side. Director Gary Ross, meanwhile, is smart enough to get out of the way of the product he's selling and not try to get all fancy "interpreting" it. It's a tough balance to strike when so much is riding on birthing a franchise, but by the time the satisfyingly bold, next-chapter-generating cliffhanger comes along, insisting on a tone of distinct unease, you'll be hungry for more.