If you didn’t know already, Hunger Games is being positioned as the next big teen film franchise. The story takes place in the distant future where twelve districts must each choose two young “tributes” from among their own people to participate in a broadcasted fight to the death known as the Hunger Games as a sort of penance for an uprising against the tyrannical government. Only one will survive this battle royale. Will our heroine Katniss be the one and will she have to kill the other tribune from her district to do it? This is the setup for our story…an intriguing one at that.
Hunger Games will undoubtedly make big money in the box office for the first couple of weeks. The premise is shocking, the marketing is haunting and the YA book market is buzzing about it. The film even manages to hit every story beat that a good story should. All of these are great signs for initial sales to be strong, but here’s my prediction…a steady drop. Why? Because this movie is a $6 cup of coffee served luke warm. It has no heart and leaves one unimpressed.
Allow me to explain.
When I go to a movie I expect 2 things to happen:
1. I expect to be entertained and leave the theater with memorable scenes I can replay in my mind and share with friends.
2. I expect to see our protagonist grow from the start to the finish. In other words, I want the story to change our hero in some way and for them to change the story.
Hunger games misses on both levels for me. It’s not my cup of tea…er…coffee (since we’re sticking with t hat analogy).
Like clockwork the first half of the film builds up to the inevitable “fight,” and the second half is meant to unveil the “thrill of the hunt” as we watch the promised fight play out. The trouble is both halves are lackluster in their delivery of these story beats. Its the execution of the story that fails…not the story itself.
Want to know why?
Never once did I actually believe what I was watching was real enough to worry about. I couldn’t connect with our heroine enough to fear for her life. She didn’t matter to me. She just wasn’t likable. Granted this is part of the storyline that even Katniss wrestles with. After all, “how can an unlikable girl possibly win enough sponsors to survive the games?”
The trouble isn’t so much the fact that SHE is unlikable as it is we never see her start to open up to anyone throughout the film in any way. As a matter I fact, she doesn’t seem to ever really like anyone other than her sister Prim (which she is willing to trade her life for at the beginning). Beyond this, we are left to wonder if she is capable of real love.
This brings me to the crux of the problem. She doesn’t change in the film. She remains, for the most part, unlikable and only focussed on survival. Yes…she teams with Peeta, but only after the annoying rule change gives her permission to. You might think she cared for Rue, but this is more of an extension of her love for her sister…it’s what she gets from the relationship that leads her to embrace Rue. Don’t believe me? Try this out…is there ever a point in the movie where your emotions were tugged? Tears in your eyes? No? I thought not. It was all forced.
Apart from this major flaw I found the rest of the film to be a bit frustrated with itself and its inability to deliver on its potential. In some ways this is necessary…these are kids battling to the death, after all. We cant very well show them kill each other off without receiving an R rating so we get a toned down version of the story. The result is a shakey camera effect that disguises the battle in vague off screen struggles. It didn’t pay-off for the story genre because of this. It was an arena battle without much of a battle.
I can already hear proponents of the film disagree with me. They’ll claim this is actually a morality tale about a girl who doesn’t want to kill. Instead she spares the life of her fellow game players when she can, only inadvertently killing then when she herself is under attack. But this is what annoyed me the most. Not because she didn’t kill people, but because she didn’t really fight the system on her own. If she is the icon of the revolution, she is an uninspiring one. She was reacting to everything and never took action on her own.
There were a few high points. The mentor played by Woody Harrelson being one. He was a pretty fun character and dId a good job at interpreting the role. The talk show host was another…but they were relatively minor roles.
I’m not a curmudgeon when it comes to popular films, honestly I’m not. I loved the Matrix, Inception, Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. I even liked Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” despite its story flaws. You know why I loved these films? Because they were entertaining and managed to convincingly steal me away to another world. This is the first fail of Hunger Games. There was no “movie magic” here.
There, I’ve said it.
If you enjoyed this film…and $6 coffee…more power to ya
I don’t begrudge the masses for their taste in coffee, or films, but I do question what all the fuss is about. It’s certainly not deserving of the attention it is getting.
Then again…I could be wrong. Time will tell.