The multi-movie adaptation of fan-beloved book series is now basically its own genre with its own distinct structural tics, like splitting the final movie into two to milk the success just that little bit longer. The Hunger Games movies don’t break the mold in that regard. But they achieve a rare, weird feat: while they’re adaptations before they’re movies, and adaptations instead of being movies, they’re actually thoroughly good on those terms as opposed to just strenuously faithful.
Partly it’s that so much of the story is about the manipulation of soft power–image, public opinion, propaganda, talk show appearances, costuming, artificially constructed love stories. That just works well on screen, where the images and soundbytes the characters use and sell can be communicated to the audience directly. There are a lot of movies that do battles well–and these are not among them, as there’s nothing in the action choreography that’s particularly striking or memorable–but there aren’t many that successfully show all the salesmanship involved in a revolution. And, for that matter, in the maintenance of power one already has. Early in the series, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) delivers a wordless demand for an underling’s suicide; later, he openly poisons someone at his own dinner table, in front of numerous supporters. Things are fraying–the pretense of democracy and normal government are going out the window. What was oblique has become blatant because the revolutionaries made it that way, because forcing “invisible” injustices into visibility–and prominence–is part of what revolution does.
Making the adult cast much more prominent also works well with this. The series is studded with charismatic, perfectly cast actors–Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Lenny Kravitz, Mahershala Ali, Philip Seymour Hoffman, an underrated Sam Claflin–and following them and their actions takes the viewer further behind the curtain. Katniss’s single, more focused POV in the books has most of the manipulation happening behind the scenes. They build the Hunger Games, she fights in them; they build the revolution, she fights in that. Here, we see both sides, and the fuller picture is vivid and fascinating. It isn’t a change to the book but an expansion of it–what the most fannish of fans always want, a filling out of the fictional world. One where everyone feels like they could have their own spinoff movie, no less.