The Hunger Games (2012) Directed by Gary Ross. With Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Wes Bentley, Stanley Tucci, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Toby Jones, Lenny Kravitz and Donald Sutherland.
Based on the popular young adult fiction by Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games sets out to win a new cinematic franchise with its post Twilight teen-romance-versus-adversity themes, as young people from an oppressive society are forced to fight to the death for the sake of public entertainment.
Having noticed a number of positive reviews, I sat back with a certain amount of optimistic anticipation. Looking back over the past few decades, there have been a few attempts to tackle this dark subject matter from The Running Man, the 80’s Arnold Schwarzenegger action vehicle, to the bloody mayhem of Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale, but none that have become what you would call a huge commercial smash…until now. Taking over $400m at the US box office, it’s pretty safe to assume the goal of creating a franchise has been achieved.
The film begins with a look that’s immediately reminiscent of the critically acclaimed drama, Winters Bone, in which the quite brilliant Jennifer Lawrence emerged as an exciting young talent. Once again here, Lawrence (Katniss Everdeen) is the emotionally sturdy mother figure to a younger sister, who at the beginning of film volunteers to take her siblings place when the youngster is selected at random to compete in the annual Hunger Games.
The positive things to say are that there are really fine performances in the film. Lawrence is once again outstanding taking the central role and is well supported by Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks and Lenny Kravitz. Where the film loses out is in it’s disregard for adding depth to the majority of Hunger Games competitors, and the way in which they all look like pretty escapees from your average Glee production. More time spent fleshing out these characters might have gone some way papering over the aesthetics but as it stands, the lack of any investment in these roles does harm the film.
Once the games begin, there’s an initially interesting period before things slide all too comfortably back into the worn formula of clearly disposable cast members being predictably ticked off, until there’s just a few left standing. While it has things to say about the voyeuristic state of reality television and the way in which young people are manipulated in the name of getting high ratings, it’s disappointing that the business end of the film doesn’t pack a bigger and more memorable punch. 3/5