I’m writing this well after the movie has been out, because as you know, my policy with Tween movies is to go see it with friends after it has been out a while. This allows us to talk and make fun of the movie while it is playing. It was therefore a surprise to us to find that this movie was very entertaining! It also surprised us that we went two months after it had been released, and the theater was still mostly full.
In case you are unfamiliar with this Hunger Games (it must be really uncomfortable living under that rock), let me sum it up for you. These movies are based on a YA series of books by Suzanne Collins. The first one was published in 2008.
Essentially, they take place in the distant future, in a nation now known as Panem (North American), that had been established after the destruction of the civilization due to some apocalyptic event. The nation consists of a very wealthy Capitol and 12 surrounding districts. As a punishment for some pas anti-capitol rebellion (during which the 13th district was destroyed), the Capitol now holds the “Hunger Games” annually, where 2 tributes (a boy and a girl between 12 and 18) are selected to go to a designed area and fight to the death.
In district 12 (used to be Appalachia, thus the coal mining and forests), Katniss Everdeen is a 16 year old who volunteers as tribute in order to protect her younger sister, Primrose, who was selected. She and Peeta Mellark, the male tribute, go into the games, and receive help from their Mentor Haymitch (the only winner to ever come out of district 12), and Effie, their …I guess I don’t know Effie’s job description – herald? Unexpectedly, Katniss uses her hunting skill and general forest know-how to both save Peeta (be real, he’s mostly dead weight), befriend weaker tributes, fake a love story to win fans, and win the Hunger Games. In doing so, so inspires the downtrodden in some of the less well-off districts. Which, as you know, pisses of the president – because if there’s one thing the elite hate, it’s inspired downtrodden.
That’s the first book. After watching the first movie over again to go see the second, I have to say, I enjoyed the second more than the first. Katniss and Peeta are on their “victory tour” of the 12 districts. The victory is not nearly as fun as you would expect. Katniss sees the effect her rebellious nature has had on the districts, but the president warns her to help squash this attitude. She also starts to notice the overbearing reach of the capitol, as it dispatches more “peacekeepers”. They are basically vicious riot cops in white gear (why white? It just shows the blood more!). Katniss and Peeta soon try to stick to their pre-written speeches as they realize that when they speak their mind, it inspires people – and inspired people try to rise against the peacekeepers – and then are viciously put down – and I mean viciously. This movie has some shocking violent moments.
They finish their tour, and take up residence in their new houses (victors get houses – hooray!) in district 12, thinking perhaps they can relax. Peacekeepers in the town are making that difficult, and unfortunately, President Snow decides he still wants to teach Katniss a lesson. He does so by having this year’s Hunger Games have special rules (it’s a Quarter Quell – every 25 years). Essentially the tributes are chosen from the victors in each district. Well, if you do the math, that means that in district 12, there are only Haymitch, Peeta, and Katniss to pull from – and Katniss being the only female, she’s definitely headed back to the arena.
She gets to pair up with her stylist Cinna – again, that might not make a ton of sense in the movie, but it’s explained better in the books (in order to survive in the arena, you need sponsors to send you gifts, to get sponsors, you have make an impression – and that’s up to your stylist…on second thought, it’s explained decently in the movie). She and Peeta head into the arena, and unbeknownst to Katniss, many have conspired around her to set a plan in motion.
This one is directed by Francis Lawrence, and Austrian best known for I Am Legend, Water for Elephants, and Constantine – and several music videos before that. His vision is dark and moody, which actually fits this story perfectly. I am thrilled that he is directing the final two movies of this series as well (they are splitting the third book into two movies).
The cast is pretty much the same from the first movie, with a few additions.
- Jennifer Lawrence is back as Katniss, and once again, she’s pretty fantastic. In this story, Katniss is less proactive and more reactive than she was in the first movie, but Lawrence still plays it well. The final scene in this movie is just a one shot of Lawrence’s face as Katniss receives some news. She takes it in, and goes from devastated to furious completely non-verbally, and it is amazing. Also – she’s probably going to win the Oscar for American Hustle, so see that if you haven’t.
- Hemsworth the lesser (Liam) again plays Gale, and actually has more scenes in this movie. He attempts to fend off some peacekeepers and gets a lesson in peacekeeper justice. I’m interested to see what he will do in the third movie, but he really seems to sink his teeth into Gale’s anger in this one.
- Josh Hutcherson, who you remember from the Journey To movies (no you don’t, because you didn’t see those) plays Peeta. He does a good job because Peeta goes from a prop to a player in this. It’s his charm and flair that the audience falls in love with, because Katniss is a bit stiff and dead-behind-the-eyes in her interviews. He again comes up with a scheme to win them fans in the arena, and Hutcherson’s genuine-ness is what makes Peeta believable. It’s entirely due to him that in the movies I find Peeta less annoying then I found him in the books.
- Woody Harrelson plays Haymitch, and again is mostly drunk and letting the wig do the work. He’s good in this, especially when you get subtle glimpses into the fact that Haymitch is very clever, and that the ‘bewildered drunk’ may be more of an act. Again, that’s subtle, and it’s Harrleson’s talent that pulls that off. But seriously, they could find a better wig.
- Willow Shields plays Primrose, and she starts coming into her own in this movie. I was pretty impressed with her very little screen time, but very solid impact.
- Donald Sutherland again quietly chews some scenery as President Snow. He’s not subtle about being out to get Katniss, so I’m not sure why no one else has picked up on it. I particularly loved the scenes between Snow and his granddaughter.
- Elizabeth Banks again gets the best hair/makeup/costumes as Effie. And again – it’s her talent that brings out the subtle charm and loyalty from Effie when on the surface she’s a superficial capitol groupie. I loved the butterfly outfit.
- Lenny Kravitz plays Cinna, and is really wonderful. He’s the last thing Katniss sees before heading into the arena, so he has to be her rock. Also – he wears gold eyeliner like nobody else.
- Stanley Tucci plays TV talk show host Ceasar Flickman. He is paired with co-host Toby Jones as Claudius Templesmith, and the two of them are ridiculous and over the top. Tucci’s wig and fake teeth steal most of his performance. And that’s without mentioning Jones’s wig.
- For the newcomers, the most notable is Philip Seymour Hoffman, who plays Plutarch Heavensbee, the new game-maker or arena-designer. He’s fine, but lacks the spectacular facial hair that Wes Bentley had in the previous movie. He seems dastardly from the get-go, but I can’t tell if that’s the character, or just Hoffman, who always creeps me out. Has he ever played a good guy? I’ll think that over.
- Jeffrey Wright (yes, that Jeffrey Wright!) plays Beetee, and Amanda Plummer plays Wiress. They are far more intelligent than the other tributes and succeed in the arena by using their brains instead of their brawn. Katniss recognizes this and wants to ally herself with them.
- Jena Malone plays Johanna Mason, and she is pretty awesome from the word go – much more in this than in the super-terrible Suckerpunch. Vindictive and angry at having to go back into the arena, she’s never really against Katniss, but she’s never really on her side either. Also, she's very serious about her ax.
- Sam Clafin plays Finnick Odair, and both he and Johanna will have more to do in the next movie. He’s handsome and clever, and tries to win over Katniss with his looks. She’s not fooled, but she is won over by his loyalty to his friends and loved ones, namely an “Annie” he left behind, and Mags, the old woman who goes into the arena with him.
- The others don’t really get much clock – except for the girl with the filed teeth. Jack Quaid plays Marvel, Taylor St. Clair plays Ripper, Alan Ritchson (TV’s Arthur Curry) plays Gloss, Stephanie Leigh Schlund plays Cashmere, Meta Golding plays Enobaria.
This movie was the highest grossing film in North America for 2013 – and as such, the only film with a sole female lead to do so since 1973’s Exorcist. Take that for what you will, but it surprised me by being far more entertaining than I expected. It moves a little faster than the first, and you really begin to see the evil of the capitol, and the development of the rebellion. I am now looking forward to the next two, which I was not prior to seeing this. It is almost three hours long, so may the odds be ever in your favor that you do not have to hit the bathroom in the middle. See what I did there?
8 of 10. Gained points for the action sequences, but lost points for the monkeys – scary. Gained points for Effie’s outfits, lost points Harrleson’s wig. Lost points for the deadly, deadly fog, and for Katniss thinking maybe she could touch it, and that it wouldn’t be deadly, “what’s this ominous, thick fog that’s rolling towards us in a menacing way? Perhaps I’ll just reach out and touch it”. Come on Katniss – you know better. Gained points for the entertaining sequences at the capitol, but lost points for the drink they have that makes them vomit after they’re full so that they can eat more. In case you miss the irony of them having that while other districts are starving, Peeta points it out so you can be indignant about it too. Gained points for Lawrence’s last stare, plus the morphing of the poster for this movie into the poster for the next.
Bonus video 1: Sam Clafin was in Snow White and the Huntsman, which was rich with potential, but did not really deliver.
Bonus Video 2: Battle Royale – the Japanese movie that came out in 1999 and is similar in that a group of 9th graders fight to the death.
Bonus Video 3: Philip Seymour Hoffman was a good guy in Twister! Well, not really a good guy, just a guy – the bad guy was a tornado with a flying cow inside of it, so by default he’s a good guy.
Bonus Video 3: The Catching Fire San Deigo Comic-Con 2013 panel.