The Hunger Games (2012) Review (Rated PG-13)
The Hunger Games was one of those movies that I felt like I really didn’t need to see to know how I was going to feel about it. I can usually look at a trailer (there have been a few exceptions) and KNOW if I’m going to like it or not. I try not to have expectations, good or bad, but sometimes it’s hard not to form an opinion when you’re being assaulted by these ad campaigns. Just going from the image of the posters above… That’s posters with an ‘s’… Usually films with that many individual character posters is going to suck monumentally. There are exceptions there, too, but if you want reinforcement of this assertion: see Sucker Punch, see GI:Joe, see the very worst of the Harry Potter films (which is like all of them except the third one).
The trailer had a number of things that were setting off the ‘It’s Going To Suck’ alarm. It looked cheap. The CGI looked like it was of the direct to the SyFy channel variety. Former ‘Cheers’ actor, Woody Harrelson is probably the biggest name here, but he’s not exactly an A-Lister. There were no big name actors. I like Elizabeth Banks… Nay, I looove Elizabeth Banks… But she’s not a household name and she’s even unrecognizable here. She’s sort of had one of those careers with unfulfilled promise. Wes Bentley’s been in some decent indie movies like ‘Wierdsville’, but seems to never have gotten a real shot at the big time. he has some impressive facial hair in this. Stanley Tucci plays that same character he does in every movie, only with a different flambouyant wig in this. Lenny Kravitz? What? So on and so forth. Even the film’s ‘star’ Jennifer Lawrence was probably cast at a bargain price (and she’s not exactly my favorite actress, either)… Every time I hear her name I think of Winter’s Bone and … shudder. Anyway, more importantly, this being a PG-13 film with the story centering around a teenage female protagonist (among other teens/young people) with a little bit of a love triangle thing, it looked like this was going to be one of those Girrrrl! empowerment films that make me want to vomit in public. It wasn’t my choice to see this one, that’s just the way things worked out.
And I was wrong. I admit it. Not about all of it. The FX are still cheap looking and there was some questionable usages of said FX and a few cheeseball moments aimed probably at young girls, but… I have to say I liked this. It’s a step up… And I mean a GIGANTIC step up from some of the other young adult films being made these days… coughcoughHarryPottercough…coughgaggkkkblearchghfffTwilightuckuckgggkkfghkkkcoughGAGcough…. Ahem. Where was I?
The film starts with Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, a young girl living in an oppressive society where there is a vast gulf between the rich and poor. She hunts with a bow and arrows to try to provide for her mother and sister. (Yes, ‘Katniss’… I mentioned there was some cheeseball stuff in the film). At some point before the film has begun, there has been an ‘uprising’ that was put down by the government. Now in penance for that, the poorest regions must offer up representatives from their individual provinces to take part in a nationally televised bloodsport where there is only one participant left alive. The ‘contestants range from preteen children, and I suppose, up to those in their early 20s (I’m guessing on that detail, though). They are chosen via weighted lottery system.
When the name of the younger sister is selected, Katniss volunteers to take her place in The Hunger Games. I have to say there is a weight given to all of this that those teen fiction films just do not have. there is something like a draping pall that hangs over the film. There is a sense of impending doom as the director lets the film build up to the inevitable and fairly intense violence (especially for a PG-13 movie). Once the games begin, there were a few deaths that were sufficiently jolting. This wasn’t Buffy The Vampire Slayer. The violence is treated in a realistic manner. I can’t say that I agree with all of the politics of the story (one scene in particular aggravated me in its shamelessness), but overall I REALLY liked this movie. I didn’t expect to. Shockingly, as much as I enjoyed The Avengers last week, I think this was the better movie. Sure, The Avengers is a lot more fun (especially to a lifelong comicnerd like myself), but weirdly, this was the more ‘adult’ movie. There is a lot more here, in terms of metaphor and the themes it presents than superheroes trying to stop a CGI alien invasion, but I digress…
Anyone reviewing this who does not compare this to other past ‘game shows of death’ films like The Running Man or more appropriately the Japanese manga turned film Battle Royale, just aren’t trying. Hunger Games has so many similarities to the latter, in fact, that it’s surprising there hasn’t been an international lawsuit already. I think Battle Royal was definitely the gorier film, what with those head exploding collars and all of that… But I think you could gravitate to the characters in this a little more. The themes of exploiting society’s youth for the entertainment of the masses, though are similar, indeed.
I liked Lawrence in this. She didn’t seem to be the stoic, blank slate pretty face that she’s been in other films I’ve see her in. She seems to be carrying a great burden in this. I also think, they got the ‘morality’ of the story right, if that makes any sense. Her character never becomes a bloodthirsty animal like some of the others in the film. She takes the high road, even when most would be taking the easier route.
The film isn’t perfect by any means… As I said, the CGI was a little cheap looking. There were some ‘cutesy’ moments like the ‘fire wardrobe’ worn by Katniss.. the ‘makeover’ moments… Stanley Tucci… That I would have just cut right out of the film. I also thought Kravitz’ character was redundant as one of the rich trying to help the lead. Harrelson’s character was already doing that, but I quibble. I did like the intensity of this movie (even if I do despise the PG-13 rating and its effect on movies). I probably don’t need to see it again, but I am glad that I saw it. I also am curious to where they could go with the central ‘games’ with the film ending the way it does…. Who knows? Maybe, I’ll see the next one.