Sorry this review is late. For reasons unclear, Lionsgate chose not to screen it for Baltimore critics.
I’m going to start this review, unconventionally perhaps, by praising one of the bit players: As master of ceremonies Caesar Flickerman, Stanley Tucci—his face preternaturally tanned, his teeth an ungodly shade of white—literally made me laugh with every single unctuous line he delivered. Never has smarminess been served up with such gusto. The guy deserves all the awards (alas, none of which he will get, save for a Teen Choice Award, perhaps).
Actually, pointing out Tucci’s brilliance at the start is not that inappropriate for this film. Like Harry Potter before it, all the “adult” roles in The Hunger Games are played by marvelous actors—Donald Sutherland as the insidious President Snow, Woody Harrelson as the drunk but wily Haymitch Abernathy, Philip Seymour Hoffman as the deceptively mild-mannered gamemaster Plutarch Heavensbee, and a truly wonderful Elizabeth Banks, who proves in this installment that there’s more to Effie Trinket than powder puffs and boas.
But of course, it would be all side dishes and no entree without the remarkable lead work of your girl crush (and mine!), Jennifer Lawrence. In a way, Lawrence was born to play Katniss Everdeen. Of course, Katniss is a loner and a bit of a misanthrope, whereas Lawrence detonates little charm bombs wherever she goes, but like her fictional alter ego, Lawrence disdains artifice in all its forms. She compulsively keeps it real.
She’s also a helluva actress. Between the first Hunger Games and this one, Lawrence picked up a shiny little gewgaw for her nightstand called the Academy Award. And new director Francis Lawrence takes full advantage of his leading lady’s talent, going in close so we can see every bit of emotion etched on her face—and trust me, Katniss gets put through the ringer.
I’m just going to come out say it: I love this series. It’s got it all: Those eye-popping costumes, the tense and exciting survival games, the sly wit, the political intrigue. And of course, there’s that nifty love triangle at the center—far better than anything Twilight ever served up, because both dear Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and hunky Gale (Liam Hemsworth) are viable options. (Team Peeta, for what it’s worth, even if Team Gale has certain, um, obvious advantages.) Sure, the sci-fi message—an oppressive government rules through fear and distraction—is not exactly revelatory, but it’s smart and extremely apropos.
In this installment, the Capitol sees Katniss as a threat and stages a kind of All-Star Hunger Games to get rid of her. There are great new additions—the aforementioned Hoffman, plus Jeffrey Wright and Amanda Plummer as a couple of twitchy Games alumni who survive by wits, not brawn; Sam Claffin as cocky Finnick Odair, Katniss’s new (possible) ally; and Jenna Malone as the righteously ticked off Johanna Mason. But they also take time to mourn and acknowledge the dead—particularly brave young Rue, whose death was the emotional nadir of the first film.
I still haven’t read the books, which is probably for the best. I can judge the film on its own terms and it works wonderfully. That being said, not sure I’ll have the willpower to bypass the third book of the trilogy. Yep, you guess it. This time around—damn them!—they left things on a cliffhanger.