It’s a cold, bleak life for Katniss when she returns to District 12 after co-winning the televised battle to the death in the first movie. Through threatening to commit suicide rather than fight each other, she and her co-conspirator-TV boyfriend Peeta forced the Capitol in general and President Snow in particular to accept one less death.
President Snow is not happy.
While Katniss moons around her impoverished mining town, seethes with rage at the ordeal she was forced to suffer, takes a supposedly celebratory victory lap around the country with Peeta, and tries to figure out how she feels about her erstwhile boyfriend Gale, Snow plots his revenge.
And it’s a doozy:
A new Hunger Games, built expressly for the purpose of putting Katniss in her place.
But Snow has problems of his own. He’s having more and more trouble suppressing the restless and angry populace. They’ve found a hero in Katniss Everdeen, the girl on fire, the girl who honored Rue, the girl who forced the Capitol into a draw. Despite his brutal and totalitarian efforts to put down the people, they rise up.
The revolution is coming. All it needs is a spark to start the blaze.
This adaptation stays true to the plot and tone of the popular book by Suzanne Collins, making minor changes and consolidations but keeping the overall trajectory intact. As with the source material, the film is intense, dark, exciting and gripping. It’s excellent.
A large part of that excellence comes in the form of America’s current darling Jennifer Lawrence in the titular role. It’s hard to remember back when she was cast that many thought she was too old to play Katniss. Now, with two movies of the eventual four complete, it’s impossible to imagine anyone else in the role. Equal parts strength and vulnerability, rage and woundedness, fear and rebellion, Lawrence’s Katniss is a confused whirlwind with an iron core. Of course they would build a revolution around her.
Liam Hemsworth as Gale and Josh Hutcherson as Peeta are very much supporting characters to Lawrence’s Katniss. It’s fun to see the boys revolving around – and depending on – the girl for a change. They could be played by other actors and have much the same effect. Not so with Jennifer Lawrence.
A supporting character that really comes into her own in this film is Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket. The primped, painted, fluffed, and aptly named promotional agent has a story arc in which her assumptions and emotions about the games are challenged for the first time, and Banks pulls it off with a humor that turns to pathos. Well done.
The Games are as much about spectacle as anything, and director Francis Lawrence puts that wonderfully into life: A dazzling but decrepit Capitol full of balls and fur and glitter, a superficial and hammy TV show hosted by Caesar Flickerman (the delightful Stanley Tucci), and a dramatic and dismaying arena with plenty of surprises.
Everything is well done. I have no complaints about this movie. If I had any, it would be that occasionally Jennifer Lawrence’s face looked a little too post-production enhanced, a sad thing to do to the natural beauty, but that is a minor, minor complaint on what is a fantastic movie.
Like the books, this movie is unrelentingly dark in tone. Comparable to the tone of Ender’s Game or the last two films of Harry Potter, the world of the Hunger Games is hard-scrabble, desperate, frantic, fearful. There are no moments of levity, and only a few snatched periods of relative peace. Rated PG-13, there is no language or overt sexuality, although Katniss does kiss both Gale and Peeta. The confusing love triangle is a large part of this story. She sleeps – chastely – with Peeta in the same bed, overcome with dread and fear and in need of company. However, the violence and oppression of this film is quite intense for a kids’ movie. There are numerous beatings, whippings, and one gun to the head execution that happens just barely offscreen. I would not recommend it for grade school kids and would use caution for young teens.
Ultimately, the darkness only serves to highlight the light of bravery as those around Katniss risk everything for a shot at freedom. This is a movie that makes you believe in revolution.
Discussion of politics in The Hunger Games. Is it liberal? Libertarian? Communist? Conservative?
Parents’ guide to “The Hunger Games.” A brief, but helpful, primer.