I have been looking to write this review for some time. 8 years in fact. For reasons of a busy schedule, I was unable to write a review until now. Having rewatched it I see why it was such a difficult film to review. It is more product than film.
When I wrote my final review for Mockingjay: Part 2 I ranked this film at the top of the series. Now I see why it didn’t matter. This is a skillfully made and polished film. Though it lacks the political intrigue of the other installments it’s still a decently staged action film. Yet for all its accomplishments I doubt The Hunger Games will be counted among the greatest franchises of all time. Despite having the best actors, casting, writers and composers here is a film that simply aims to do good without answering why. It’s a film when removed from its franchise duties has a hollow story at its core.
Unsurprising coming from Lionsgate; the studio that didn’t finish off John Wick when it had the chance and drove its Divergent trilogy into the ground making 3 out of 4 films and giving up. The flaws of the house Saw and Twilight built show here with some spotty acting from great performers, some questionable effects on a $130 million dollar budget, and general emptiness.
There’s an interesting premise at hand about a protagonist who is more important than she knows despite her actions meaning nothing, and the weight the film carries would be meaningful if its story sacrifices amounted to a more than a perfunctory conclusion. Alas Catching Fire’s legacy amounts to its inspiring female protagonist role. The series that made Jennifer Lawrence famous. The one that convinced Disney to have a female protagonist at the centre of its own ruined franchise: Star Wars. Better is still yet to come.
Is it laughable out of the two major Blockbuster fantasy series Lionsgate created; the rotten reviewed one about Vampire abstinence has left a larger cultural footprint?
Jennifer Lawrence overacts in this movie. She has to in order to mask the plot motivations which down to the details of the book make very little sense. If most of the story is plot and the reasons for violence don’t matter, better to treat the violence as inevitable. We’re asked to care about a love triangle and a meaningful relationship progression between Katniss and Peeta. But Katniss can’t even muster any interest and Peeta is a walking liability. It doesn’t help that he’s played by a miscast and charisma-free Josh Hutcherson.
The world of The Hunger Games is populated by figures with wacky names like Katniss’ Mom and Plutarch Heavensbee; a role so important yet so uninteresting not even one of the greatest actors of our time Phillip Seymour Hoffman could bring him to life. In fact, the opposite happened. It was his last role, he left it incomplete. Dying of an accidental overdose days before his work in the fourth film was complete.
Direction: Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend) gets the Batman Forever Joel Schumacher Award for commanding our attention throughout most of the film only to have us mostly forget it afterward. Enjoy the memes in 20 years.
Producing: Nina Jacobson (Crazy Rich Asians) wins the MVP award here. First casting Hoffman sent out a very good “we give a sh*t” attitude and improved on the last movie hiring a better director who doesn’t utilize shaky-cam that audiences hate. The film was kept on a tight schedule and hired two great Academy Award-winning writers: Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt (credited as DeBruyn because it was only a touch-up). Can’t every movie franchise have this much common sense? It starts in the writing people.
Writing: This is more a producer decision but widening the scope by not having the entire plot take place from the main character’s point of view is different than Harry Potter and more ambitious. Also, I would imagine its hard too adapt sometimes embarrassing dialogue.
So why does it disappoint upon re-examination? Fracturing the weakest part of the trilogy into two books (Mockingjay), preceding a boring movie (Mockingjay: Part 1), and a downbeat overall franchise ending means all the fun and games mean very little and this high point of craft is as much a distraction as the two-and-a-half hours provided while Lionsgate reaches into your wallet. Passable entertainment. The IMAX portion really is an impressive technical feat that failed Christopher Nolan and Michael Bay.
P.S. With the exception of Jennifer Lawrence Bad wig jobs all around.