So first, my general impressions: the film is pretty well-made, if a little long for its subject matter. I didn’t detect any glaring problems with the editing, direction, etc. The problem is, of course, the source material. As one would expect from a novel aimed at teens or tweens, there’s not much here for adults: it’s very clear cut who is good and who is bad, and the story arc is telegraphed way too much. Which, of course, begs the question, why is The Hunger Games so popular?
I think it’s popular for a number of reasons but chief among them is that it tells an old story in a new guise: not only is the story of a young person sacrificing his (in this case, her) future for the good of the community but somehow overcoming the odds and surviving as old as any other narrative, but the opposition of good and evil within it is even older.
Even though there are attempts to create moral ambiguity, every one of those attempts is for the sake of appearances. Katniss, despite, or perhaps because of, her inability to fit in, is Good with a capital G. And most of those arrayed against her seem to be Bad with a capital B.
And at the end of the day most people are looking for stuff that treats morality like the myths. I think people long for a “simpler” time when the myth that people are all good or all bad hadn’t been exposed as a myth.
And so stuff like this, which posits clearly good and bad characters, where the audience doesn’t have to worry about their heroes doing anything terrible and, conversely, doesn’t have to worry about the bad guys becoming likeable, is extremely popular when it is well done, as this is. The moral ambiguity is left to fringe characters such as that guy Woody Harrelson plays; but even he becomes more likeable as the movie proceeds.
This is basically a long way of saying people like happy endings. And hiding a simple story with so many cliches and a happy ending in a supposedly complex dystopian setting is a way of letting people like an old story while pretending this is somehow something new and different and, as many people will tell you, good.