a critiQal film review The Hunger Games (2012)

Plot: A dystopic Capitol requires its twelve subjugated districts to pay tribute in the form of a teenage boy and girl who are forced to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV. When Katniss Everdeen’s little sister is chosen in the lottery, Katniss (Lawrence) volunteers to take her place.

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Since I’d never read the teen-oriented books by Suzanne Collins, it wasn’t really a big deal when The Hunger Games first hit the big screen. Even over the course of the 4 other films, I just shrugged and went on my way, thinking this was akin to the Twilight (2008) hoopla – just a bunch of over-hyped teenybopper garbage.

Now, however, the star of The Hunger Games has started making a name for herself as an actress – most recently appearing in Red Sparrow (2018). So, I figured, before I could watch Red Sparrow (2018), I should go back and watch the films that brought her to the table…starting with The Hunger Games.

Jennifer Lawrence is definitely thrust into the spotlight in The Hunger Games. While there is a bit of that blank stare stars get when they are first tossed into the bright light of fame, the film actually makes good use of it in terms of her character. Coming from a backwater “district” (read: town), then thrust into the bigger spotlight of an annual teenage game of death (with hundreds of thousands of viewers), it actually makes sense she’s going to have that blank stare in front of the “fake” cameras in the film. Even her nervousness at being on the big stage is used to the film’s advantage, and makes Lawrence’s Katniss into a star to watch.

The rest of the cast of The Hunger Games is peppered with more seasoned actors, taking more minor roles and showing the younger generation (like Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth, among others) how to do it. Among these more seasoned veterans: Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, and Donald Sutherland. A barely recognizable Elizabeth Banks is here as well, and plays against type with a much more subdued role (despite her flamboyant makeup). Lenny Kravitz is surprisingly decent in his first major film role, All in all, while this may be Jennifer Lawrence’s first step into the big time, she’s surrounded by such a solid cast it’s easy to see how they make her look good.

The storyline itself is a bit off-kilter. In a dystopian world, the losers of a rebellion have been made to sacrifice two of their children each year in a much-ballyhooed game of death. While the districts in favor (the “winners”, presumably) have intense academies that train their children to win the game, the poor, downtrodden loser “districts” barely have time to forage for their own food, much less train their children. Thus, the peace is kept, as the hope that one of their children will win the game (despite the odds) keeps the rebellious districts in check.

It’s a bit ridiculous, as it seems that the yearly game of death in The Hunger Games would seem like the spark that would start another rebellion – especially since children are involved in this macabre display. But, for some reason, it doesn’t, and the viewer just has to go along with that.

While The Hunger Games spends a lot of time building up the game itself, unfortunately it’s that buildup that’s the weakest link in this film. Supposedly, these trainers develop an emotional attachment to our heroine, yet the viewer is hard-pressed to figure out exactly when this happens. Instead, it just seems to be a tease to the viewer, dragging out the moment that game begins to make sure the viewer is still paying attention.

When the game does finally begin, it’s not exactly the fast-paced death and mayhem the viewer may have been originally expecting. While The Hunger Games show the viewers glued to their screens at all times, it seems hard to believe these viewers would keep watching over the course of the week (or more) these games continue. But, when the action heats up (like in the first few moments), it’s almost hard to follow the mayhem that commences.

In fact, the best part of The Hunger Games, is when it focuses on Katniss during the game itself. Here is where Jennifer Lawrence really comes into her own in the film, as her awkwardness in the previous part of the film disappears as she struggles to survive. Katniss’ real character comes to the fore, and viewers will find themselves growing more attached to a character they had, up until that point, kept at a distance.

Yes, The Hunger Games does come to a satisfying – if incredibly predictable – end, and viewers should walk away feeling like they just spent a halfway decent two plus hours. Sure, it’s a bit uneven at times, but Jennifer Lawrence picks just the right time to shine, and despite some flaws, the story has a spark of something that keeps the viewer watching. It’s not one of the great films of the decade, but it’s sure a heck of a lot better than Twilight (2008), and, thanks to its solid cast, is worth checking out.

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