Friday, March 23, 2012

The Hunger Games Movie Review

Stanley Tucci & Jennifer Lawrence (r) star in The Hunger Games

Happy Hunger Games: This Girl’s on Fire!

Halfway into Gary Ross’ The Hunger Games, I said to myself “This is going to make a lot of money.” Even the film’s tagline ‘The World will be watching’ is ominously fortuitous. Based on the wildly popular novel of the same name by Suzanne Collins,The Hunger Games is what Disney’s John Carter couldn’t be... a true blockbuster and an even better film.
Make no mistake; this is a teen film with just enough goodies to keep adults engaged. Loaded with (in no particular order) action, drama and humor, Lionsgate’s sci-fi darling is poised to break the bank this weekend as it hones in on Twilight territory. At the very least, it’s bound to join 2010’s Alice in Wonderland as the only films to open with $100+ million in March. But after experiencing all that is The Hunger Games, I’d be surprised if it didn’t give Harry PotterBatman and the aforementioned Twilight quite a scare.
Set sometime in the future, the people of Panem (formerly North America) are getting ready for the annual Hunger Games, a battle royal where two children (one boy, one girl between the ages of 12-18) are selected from each of 12 districts to fight to the death before a TV audience (and the amusement of the dystopian Capitol city... ruler of the 12 Districts.) It turns out that more than half a century earlier, the Capitol had to put down a rebellion by the 12 districts. As punishment, the Hunger Games and the practice of reaping (a raffle to determine the 24 players) were born.
Jennifer Lawrence stars as 16-year-old District 12 resident Katniss Everdeen who volunteers to participate, when her younger sister is selected. Despite impressive survival skills (including Olympic-level archery) Katniss and District 12 partner Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) are given little hope for victory, especially given the voracity of favorites Cato (Alexander Ludwig) and Glimmer (Leven Rambin) who can best be described as killing machines... teenage killing machines. 
Before the games begin, Katniss and Peeta must go through several days of promotion and training. It’s during this time that we’re introduced to the “meat and potatoes” of Ross’ film. Yes, it’s a movie about and for teens, but the adults steal the show as TV stars, trainers and others associated with the “well-being” of the games. From bad guys Stanley Tucci and Wes Bentley to good guys Elizabeth BanksWoody Harrelson and Lenny Kravitz, Hunger Games is loaded with colorfully entertaining stars that do everything but fight. Tucci, with his blazing blue hair and Banks are the best of a great lot. In fact, I couldn’t stop myself from laughing every time Tucci and fellow commentator Toby Jones appeared on screen... Yes, they’re that funny. Banks and Harrelson trade barbs with delightful frequency, including Woody’s ‘Loosen your corset. Have a drink.’
Once the kids are finished with training, the adults pretty much disappear (save for an odd shot here and there) and we’re left with 24 kids literally killing each other. Thankfully, most of the murders appear blurred on screen or announced with an eerie cannon boom off in the distance. Still, the idea of 12 and 13 year-old kids getting sliced and diced can’t be good for young audiences; Can it? I know kids are growing up fast, but gee wiz. The action is good, not great, but lovely to look at. Actually, everything is nice to look at here. Lawrence is captivating and engaging in every scene. The casting (Debra Zane) is top notch, and the story hums along at a suitable pace... although 142 minutes is probably 22 too long. As for negatives, a late-blooming romantic sub-plot seems strangely superfluous at best and in a word... boring.

Irreverent throughout, Hunger Games is no kiddy show. Bentley’s Seneca Crane refers to the games as ‘something that knits us all together.’ Talk about taking liberty with words. Unlike most fantasy story lines, I was able to stay with The Hunger Games to its very end. That, in and of itself is nothing short of a miracle. If a 43-year-old guy like me can stay intrigued, imagine how teenagers are going to react. I’m guessing with repeat visits to the theaters and millions & millions of dollars for Lionsgate & company. Well-deserved millions, if you ask me.
Grade: B+