It has been a while since I have read the book, and maybe that worked in my favor here, but I feel like the overall plot, themes and message from the book were very well done in the film. It’s a long film, clocking in just shy of two and a half hours, which means it can expand outside of the arena in which the Games take place. The first half of the film can really delve into what is happening in all of the Districts since the end of the Hunger Games depicted in the first film where we saw Katniss and Peeta defy the Capitol, sparking riots among those who have been shunned to poverty. We see their Victory Tour and what the Capitol attempts to twist it into, intending to take away Katniss’s power as a potential leader in an uprising against the established leaders. Anyone who shows their support for Katniss’s actions in the Hunger Games is captured and killed. The Capitol, as ever, is depicted as greedy, grotesque and power-hungry. The leaders will stop at nothing to keep their positions over the Districts and the residents love their lives of luxury. One scene even shows how they have a special drink just to make them sick so they can taste all the food – all while residents of the other Districts are starving, as Peeta points out.
As with the first film, once Katniss and Peeta find out they have to go back to the Hunger Games again the action within the arena is creepy and enthralling. Perhaps even better done than with the first film, the obstacles faced by the Tributes show the lengths to which the Gamemakers will go to get good entertainment and show their power. From a lightning storm to poisonous fog to Jabberjays who repeat screams of loved ones to Katniss and Finnick for an hour, this arena clearly shows that the real enemy is not the other Tributes in the Games, but the leaders who are creating them.
As usual, Jennifer Lawrence is perfect as Katniss, and the actors surrounding her in the film are all up to par. Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth as her love interests Peeta and Gale are well done and provide nice eye candy for the teenagers who make up a huge part of the Hunger Games fandom. Newcomer Sam Claflin as Finnick, another victor pulled into the 75th Hunger Games’ Quarter Quell, does well aside from an American accent that is a little too noticeably unnatural, but not horribly distracting.
What I find interesting, and this may get spoilery, is how by the end of the film, the ones beginning the rebellion come across as just as manipulative and untrustworthy as those against whom they are rebelling. I could go on for hours about what the films say about our society but this is not the time for that. I’ll just say that the film leaves a huge cliffhanger that makes the year-long wait for Mockingjay – Part 1 to come to theaters exceptionally difficult.
Give it a chance, just aim for a showing early in the day while the kids are still in school to avoid a theater full of teens excited to see the romance – that way you can enjoy how effective the film really is at portraying an ominous dystopian world that serves as a critique of our current society’s priorities.