Following my review/rant on Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games, I now present to you the sequel, in which I review the film (and try not to rant any more about vampires).
If you haven’t yet seen it – which is perfectly possible given it was only released last week – and you also haven’t read the books (naughty) then you might want to wait before perusing this review. Otherwise, on with the show!
My first and only real complaint (and it is admittedly a minor, nitpicky sort of whine) is that for some reason the name of the film was altered here in Zurich to “The Tribute from Panem,” which seems to be a bizarre decision on the part of publicists (or on the part of whoever made the decision…) Can anyone think of a more bemusing title for a film? But anyway, to get to the review:
First off, the atmosphere and tension levels that the film achieves hit the mark perfectly. It is a visual delight; the Capitol costumes, and Katniss’s infamous dresses, are wonderfully realised – and admirably displayed by actress Jennifer Lawrence. The film features compelling performances – supporting cast members Elizabeth Banks (Effie Trinket) and Lenny Kravitz (Cinna) don’t get a lot of screen-time compared to Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson (Peeta Mellark), but they certainly succeed in making a memorable impression. Donald Sutherland was a slightly surprising choice as Coriolanus Snow, simply because he looks too avuncular and…well, cuddly, to be truly evil. But then that’s probably my own fault for wanting to trust outward appearances. At any rate, he conveyed a certain quiet menace that I am looking forward to seeing developed in the later films.
Given that the strength of the story does depend on its heroine, I felt that Jennifer Lawrence proved to be just right the for the job, putting in a spirited performance as Katniss Everdeen, “the girl on fire”. She managed to convey the stubbornness and appeal of Katniss, whilst displaying an impressive physicality: climbing trees, running like a demon, and fighting like a thing possessed. Admittedly she didn’t come across very malnourished, or indeed much like a sixteen year old (Lawrence is 21, and it shows), but these things can be forgiven. The scene in the arena where she runs from the flames that the games organisers generate was genuinely terrifying, the fight with the female Career Tribute near the end visceral and nerve-racking. I spent a lot of my time seized up with unconscious tension and then wondered why my neck and shoulders were so sore by the end of the film. Even the absurdly long break in the middle of the film imposed by Zurich cinema’s desires to cater to the nicotine starved and weak-bladdered couldn’t detract too much from the atmosphere. (No, I’m not going to stop going on about it).
And I think this tense atmosphere is truly where the film’s success lies: it grasps its audience by the throat and pulls them into the terror and high-ratcheted emotions of the Hunger Games. This is in part achieved through its documentary-style filming, a technique that seems to have grown in popularity recently, and which makes the observer feel as if they too are part of the action because they are subject to and conscious of the camera’s erratic movements. We are also, at pertinent points, permitted to witness Katniss’s perspective; for example, as she staggers away from the site of the venomous Trackerjack nests, we are privy to her hallucinations, supplied in part by the disorienting sway of the camera. In so doing, the audience’s sympathies are firmly aligned with a heroine that might otherwise have come across (as Haymitch criticises) as sullen or awkward.
Fortunately for my neck and shoulder muscles, there are moments of relief in the film; several of them stem from Effie Trinket’s unthinking remarks to the two potentially-doomed tributes she is responsible for, and their speechless reactions; the rest belong to Woody Harrelson’s turn as the cynical drunk, Haymitch, who mentors the District 12 pair. His sour quips made me laugh out loud on several occasions. The screenplay as a whole is well conceived and sticks very closely to the book, which I am choosing to attribute to the fact that Suzanne Collins was closely involved. I do wonder how those who haven’t read the book would receive the film however, as it moves very quickly and could be accused of skimping on character development. Given that I was in the happy position of having already read the trilogy, I was willing to sacrifice this for the exhilarating pace that the plot romped along at.
Something that works for the film and which was perhaps not quite so evident when reading the books is how the film actually makes us, the audience, complicit with the Capitol’s hordes of privileged viewers. We too watch the Tributes battling in the arena, our attention held by their victories and losses, and the emotion that’s involved in the ‘Star-Crossed lovers’ story that the film-makers/games-makers seek to spin. As Gale points out, it is this compulsion to watch people going through humiliation and suffering that lies at the heart of the evil of their society, “If no-one watched, they wouldn’t have the Games”. Our only consolation is that what we are watching isn’t real, even if it does a pretty good job of appearing so. I’d like to hope that we’re able to draw the line firmly between fiction and reality, else we really are no better than the Capitol’s inhabitants. But the apparent enjoyment that stems from watching footage of the downfall of Gaddafi, the execution of Saddam Hussein, or that of Osama Bin Laden does strike a chord – admittedly these are people who have caused the deaths of many others and are morally extremely reprehensible – but they are still human, nonetheless. It recalls the public executions of earlier centuries as a source of entertainment for the general populace.
And is it really such a jump from finding a grim fascination with footage such as this, or indeed the penchant for seeing celebrities (and ordinary people) humiliating themselves publically, to the situation that the people of Panem find themselves in? These are the dark thoughts that worm their way in if one permits any kind of critical social analysis to take effect after watching The Hunger Games – and this too is why I urge you to go and see this film. Be entertained, but don’t forget to think.