The first movie in the Hunger Games series was very well made. It was generally faithful to the Suzanne Collins book on which it was based. The actors chosen for the cast were all very good in portraying the characters, vividly bringing the book to life. I rated that first film a 8/10. I was really looking forward to this sequel which tackles the second book in the series.
From Gary Ross who did very well in the first film as director and writer, this sequel (up to the next two films in the series) is now in different hands. The new director is Francis Lawrence, whom I do not know much about. The script this time was adapted by 2 Academy Award-winning writers, Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) and Michael Arndt (LIttle Miss Sunshine). There was some apprehension as to how the book will be translated on screen.
After watching the film, there was certainly nothing to worry about after all. While some parts of this film may feel like a retread of the first film, that is how the second book was really written as well. This second installment managed to even up the ante, coming up with a film that excellently captured the escalating political turmoil among the Districts in Panem and how Katniss becomes its fiery symbol. The story was told so fluidly that you do not feel that two and a half hours had gone by.
The story picks up from the first film, where Katniss and Peeta return to their homes in decrepit District 12. Katniss's unprecedented act of near-suicide during the last Hunger Games had been seen by several citizens as an act of defiance against the government. Alarmed by this development, the threatened President Snow hatches a plan to kill Katniss before she causes more unrest all over his domain.
In celebration of the 75th year of the Hunger Games, previous Victors (one male and one female) from each District to fight in another games to the death called the Quarter Quell. Being the only female Victor of District 12, Katniss was an automatic contestant, and the odds were stacked against her favor. To her surprise, she has new allies and they seem to be supporting her. How will the results of this special edition of the Hunger Games affect the revolution already catching fire outside the Capitol walls?
Jennifer Lawrence is perfectly cast as Katniss Everdeen. She is really one awesome actress, burning the big screen with her emotion, making it impossible to resist empathizing with her. Even in that simple scene during the Victors Tour in District 11, home of the fallen tribute Rue, Katniss' short heartfelt speech can make you teary-eyed as Jennifer delivers it. Her character can be maddening with her seeming indecision between her two consorts, but Jennifer rises above that sappy love triangle cliché. Her graceful action prowess was on full display in that archery exhibition in the training room.
The other members of the cast from the last film steps up their performances for this film. Josh Hutcherson improves on his rather cheesy performance in the first film with a stronger one here as Peeta Mellark, Katniss' games partner. Liam Hemsworth has more screen time as Gale Hawthorne, Katniss' close friend who loves her.
Woody Harrelson was perfect as their mentor and former District 12 victor Haymitch Abernathy. Elizabeth Banks succeeded to emotionally shine through her outlandish costumes and makeup as tributes escort Effie Trinket. Stanley Tucci was over-the-top in a good way, as over-the-top emcee Caesar. Lenny Kravitz appears in a short but markedly powerful portrayal of Katniss' stylist Cinna.
The new members of the cast also inhabited their roles like well-fit shoes. Donald Sutherland was formidable as President Snow needed to be. Phillip Seymour Hoffman had the requisite sneakiness and sinisterness as new Head Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee.
Sam Claflin is not exactly the charismatic District 4 victor Finnick Odair I had in mind when I was reading the books, but he did alright. Jena Malone was better as sassy and rebellious District 7 victor Johanna Mason. Jeffrey Wright does creditably well as the quiet but ingenious District 3 victor Beetee.
The special visual effects of this film were amazingly conceived and executed. The Victors Chariot Parade was grandiose in its scale. The Games arena itself, with its tropical rain forest setting, was so realistically harsh with its various booby traps which ranged from poisonous fog, the vicious baboons, the confounding jabberjays, among others.
The costumes of Katniss make amazing statements in the book. I was really looking forward to how these special gowns were to be shown on screen, and I must say, they were worth the expectations. The other technical aspects such as cinematography, editing, production design and sound were all top-notch as well.
This film tackles serious political topics very well, simplified for its young target audience, but not in a way that insults more mature viewers. The Hunger Games is in a class of its own when in comes to excellence among all these young adult series that came or are coming out now -- a clear notch above all the rest. Fans of the books will not be disappointed.
This is a perfect made bridging film. It stands very well on its own merits, as much as it guarantees that the next two films in the franchise will be blockbusters. 9/10
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."