I unfortunately did not write a review for the previous film, which despite its terrible camera work, was not terrible itself. In this, the second instalment of the trilogy (of four parts… whatever) the same cast returns to continue the story where the last movie left off. Katniss and Peeta win the Battle-Royal-ripoff fight to the death and, in an act of defiance, refuse to kill one another.
The second film picks up not long after the end of the first, with the victorious couple about to go on tour. The cover story being that their act of defiance was out of love, rather than as any sort of political statement against the ruling powers. However, since Katniss’ feelings towards Peeta are not particularly warm, the act is not as convincing as Panem’s president, played by a brilliant Donald Sutherland would like it to be. Even as they try to stick to the state-sanctioned script, a revolution begins to simmer with Katniss as its figurehead.
Meanwhile, a new game master played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, named Plutarch Heavensbee (best name ever) is introduced as the replacement for the previous game master who met an untimely demise at the hands of some poison berries at the end of the previous film. Plutarch is brought in by the president to help quell the simmering revolution before it gets out of hand, and also to remove Katniss in an appropriate manner. After a few initial setbacks, they settle on a plan to achieve these ends by having a special edition of the hunger games in which the field is made up of past victors. (I’m not giving away anything that wasn’t in the trailers, don’t worry)
I complained about the shaky camera work in the first film and the second one seems to have largely fixed this. I am not against shaky hand-held camera work per se, but it was spectacularly overused in the previous installment. Here it is used sparingly and, in my opinion, is thus able to have more of an impact when it is used because of this. Overall, the production values were better in this film than in the previous one which is unsurprising as it had approximately twice the budget of its predecessor.
In many ways, this is the same film as the previous one. There is a similar storyline, the plot is motivated in the same way, and it follows the same overall structure – but this one’s better. It is able to build on the previous film since we already know the background to the hunger games universe, the characters are also mostly known to us, so they can be explored in more depth, and this film does exactly that. It also delves more deeply into the political parts of this universe. Jennifer Lawrence returns as the reluctant hero (with some pretty (deliberatley) awful eye make up) as does Josh Hutcherson as the boy in love with the girl on fire (Katniss) but whose love is not returned. I have to say that Josh’s screen presence, blank looks, and constantly acting like he doesn’t quite know what he’s doing leads me to believe that he’s a bad actor who has been perfectly cast for the role, or that he’s a brilliant actor who has managed to fool us all.
On the subject of brilliant actors, Donald Sutherland gets a lot more screen time as the president, and he uses it to great effect – his cold, calculating manner could have so easily been overdone by a lesser actor. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Woody Harrelson are also excellent in their supporting roles and bring a complexity and depth to their characters which gives a healthy contrast to the youthful naivety of the young tributes. Elizabeth Banks, who plays the comically caricature-like character of Effie Trinket (another brilliant name) really shines in this movie. In the previous one, she was somewhat one-dimensional, while in this one she manages to not only show considerably more emotional depth, but has somehow managed to weave the lines that carry that depth into this very unusual character. The other tributes are also played very well, in particular the unusual Johanna Mason (probably the most normal name in all of the books) from district 7 (played by Jena Malone), and principle ally to our heroes Finnick Odair from district 4 (played by Sam Clafin).
Despite knowing what was going to happen throughout the film (I do occasionally read books, you know) I was captivated by the storytelling and very rarely looked up, realising that I was in a movie theatre, to exclaim “wtf, mate… !?”. Even as the film draws to its inevitable conclusion, the characters remain believable, the plot holes aren’t too wide and gaping, and an audience member who isn’t familiar with the books would probably be kept guessing until the end. This is about as well as they could have done, story-wise, as was possible within the constraints of a film (I do hope that since the next edition is planned to be split into two installments, they put some effort into fleshing out some more of the finer details that have been missed from the books).
Overall, a fairly decent story told in a simple way, but the ‘movie’ aspects of it (having enough action action sequences to keep the playstation generation from falling asleep while still getting enough dialogue in to satisfy literary snobs like myself) were executed very well. I recommend this film. While it is not strictly necessary, I also recommend watching the previous film before seeing this one.
One small bone to pick… so if they’re making up a hunger games with previous victors, you’re going to need 24 of them. First of all, since there’s only one victor every year, it will have been a full 24 years since one of the victors won. Considering the nature of the games, it is not likely that a very young victor emerges very often, and we are actually told that the youngest ever was 14. That places the minimum age of the victor from 24 years ago at 38. In addition, tributes must be chosen from the different districts, and we know that some districts are more represented in the pool of victors than others meaning that some districts may not have a living victor, or might have one that is very old. There is a small attempt to address this, but the spread of ages among the tributes in this hunger games seems far too young.