The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay (Part one) (2014)

As well as clocking in as one of the longest film titles this year, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay (Part 1) also, unfortunately, happens to be one of the more underwhelming films too.

Once again, Jennifer Lawrence dons wig and quiver as Katniss, victor of the 74th Hunger Games and now working begrudgingly for District 13 led by the steely-eyed, President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore). Under the tutelage of ex-Gamekeeper Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour-Hoffman), Katniss is prodded and poked into becoming the face of the District’s rebellion. Like a member of the royal family, she is carted around from place to place with a camera crew/marine guard filming her every moment. Meanwhile, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) appears to be now working for the Capital who are ramping up their propaganda to sedate to the great unwashed.

You know how in the run up to an election, you become awash with leaflet campaigns and door knocking from every party. You start becoming deaf to their accusations that the other party is the worst. Mockingjay (Part 1) is similar in that despite its big name stars and large budget, we’re basically following some people on a campaign trail.

Those who have read the source material will know the action doesn’t really ramp up until the second half, which makes it all the more obvious that this is simply a cash-in. There is nothing here that wouldn’t be missed if someone was to take a scalpel to the film and cut it down to 45 minutes tops. This is not a slur on anyone involved in the film itself. Everyone is fantastic and on the ball through out, with the exception of Liam Hemsworth who hasn’t convinced in any of these films. It’s just it’s hard to defend Mockingjay (Part 1) against accusations of lining the pockets of those above. No movie needs this much setup. Like The Deathly Hallows Part 1, people are being duped into thinking this is a complete film. It’s not. It’s flashy exposition. It’s the prawn cocktail before we get to the roast dinner.

When the second part is released next year, there’ll be a better idea of how well this film fits in with the narrative. However, for now, this is an incomplete movie. After the success and, quite frankly, joy of Catching Fire, it’s a shame the suits had to be involved so much.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

The franchise that people love to compare to Battle Royale is back (and yes we do as well so sssh). Now with added Oscar Winning Actresstm.

Following on from the last’s bleak happy ending, the 74th Hunger Games victors, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) are continuing their sham relationship under the scrutiny of the public gaze, whilst barely talking to each other behind closed doors.

Fearing an eventual overthrow of government, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and his new Games Master (Philip Seymour Hoffman) put steps into motion to further water down the impact of Katniss’ actions in the first film; Having unwittingly whipped the great unwashed into a revolutionary frenzy. Katniss must now tow the company line in return for the lives of her family; swapping piss and vinegar for doe eyes and Vaseline-on-the-teeth smiles. When that fails to work, a new Hunger Games is announced with the contestants all being previous winners. Can Katniss and Peeta survive another round up against seasoned pros?

The interesting thing about this chapter in the franchise is how little interest the games present when measured up against what’s going on behind the scenes. And we mean that in the nicest way. Through Peeta and Katniss’ victory tour of the Districts, we’re further exposed to a rich world of the haves and the have-nots. If the first film was about the idea of hope, then Catching Fire – as the title suggests – is about that idea becoming something tangible. Something the downtrodden can aspire to that doesn’t involve millionaire playboys running around dressed up as bats. Something as simple as a three fingered salute in front of your oppressors. There’s a lot to chew on and mull over, which gets lost when the new games eventually start.

When the klaxon screams the start of the slaughter, the film drops the symbolism like a bad habit and we find ourselves yearning to be back at the capital. Yes, there is kind of a key theme regarding people hiding behind a façade, which comes to some sort of payoff in the end, but honestly we like a bit more meat with our gravy.

Thank heavens then for Sutherland and Hoffman. In a stark improvement upon the first film’s glimpses of behind the scenes politics with Game Master Seneca Crane, Catching Fire lets us see the corrupt Sutherland and Hoffman as they buffet on the scenery and put their machinations in order. If this film were set in the 1800s, these co-conspirators would quaff brandy, smoke cigars and stroke their chins decrying the name of Katniss Everdeen.

Speaking of the Girl on Fire, Lawrence brings it all to the table; adding gravitas to a role that others would not. In the wrong hands, a character like Katniss could painted as an all-conquering hero, invincible to all. However, Lawrence brings subtlety that grounds the outlandish scenario unfolding. In her final scene, she manages to tell a whole emotional story without uttering a word. It’s a shame the same couldn’t be said of her onscreen boyfriend played by Liam Hemsworth, who struggles to add any life to his performance. Does he love Katniss or is it just gas? It’s the kind of performance we expect from other franchises, not this one. And not wanting to get too political, it’s always, ALWAYS good to see a strong female lead whose sole preoccupation isn’t who does she love more.

Overall, Catching Fire is solid fantasy which almost suffers the indignity of being the bridge from the first film’s set up and the payoff of the final two. The fact it still succeeds, shows great promise for the next films in the franchise.

The Hunger Games (2012)

Firstly, EBFS is assured by someone who HAS ploughed through Suzanne Collins trilogy of futuristic, murderous teenagers that this adaptation is a faithful representation of the novel. Faithful in spirit definitely, some minor characters and plotlines have been jettisoned for obvious reasons and that seems fair and reasonable. Secondly, this is a review of the rated 12 version that we have been “granted”  here in the UK. So, whilst a bigger portion of the novel’s fans might be able to see it up on the screen we are left with a film, about 12-18 year olds murdering each other for the delight of a dilettante society ruled by a totalitarian government, which lacks spine. And guts. And even blood.

Jennifer Lawrence, with more than a hint of a young Juliette Lewis (Not Cape Fear young, a bit after that), is Katniss Everdeen, a tomboyish hunter stuck way out in District 12 (looks like Nebraska) scraping a living for her younger sister and mother. When her sister is selected for The 74th annual Hunger Games, an X-factor style show with less tears where 24 kids go into an arena and only one emerges, Katniss volunteers to take her place to save her. Her sister being well, less tomboyish.

Exposition is kept to a few lines that function as the titles and a brief, public information film voiceover from President Snow. Everything else about  future America is revealed piecemeal, this is relatively complex world building here and it works well enough, although it did lead to this reviewer briefly believing that although the human race was still semi-reliant on coal, it had mastered the tricky craft of creating dogs out of nothing.

The targets are big but the aim is true. The Hunger Games effectively lampoons reality television. There is nothing of the scabrous wit or dark comedy of Network here, just a gentle but firm aura of disapproval of those running the game and those enjoying the broadcasts, but not, interestingly of several people who work for the show who must be as part of the problem as anyone. Both Cinna (Lenny Kravitz, looking normal) as a stylist and Haymitch (Woody Harrelson, looking quite normal), a former winner, are off the hook for taking company money as they are presented sympathetically. Haymitch is almost the comic relief in a po-faced film played in no way for laughs. Seneca (Wes “dancing bag” Bentley, looking bearded and insane) and Caeser (Stanley Tucci, Oh my god) as producer and presenter respectively get the bad guy roles and thoroughly enjoy them, camping up the Roman angle to a sneeringly, obtuse level. The main evil in The Hunger Games, however, belongs to President Snow (Donald Sutherland, looking like a poodle pilgrim) who seems to spend an absurd amount of time bothering with a television show when, presumably, he also has a fragmented, two tier society to oversee.

By the time the clever ending (a highlight, with a nod to A Clockwork Orange) comes around the persuasive acting of the leads and the immersive structure of this particular future have won out over the nagging issues and overlong running time to provide a decently entertaining few hours with enough surprises to make even the most hardened sci-fi fans interest a little piqued. So, we’re left with a smart, well made, driven, action film that isn’t making as big a point as the pile of money it’s rolling around in. We can’t help thinking that teens killing each other in an arena has been done better before………BATTLE ROYALE, BATTLE ROYALE, BATTLE ROYALE. Sorry. Fear the sequels.