Let me start this off by saying that I have not read any of The Hunger Games books. Everything that has happened on screen during the first two in this installment is all new to me, and I have no insight into the source material. I will also say that I did not like the first one. It felt very..."PG-Thirteen-y" in every sense. I thought the story was pretty weak, I found most of the characters unlikable (save for Woody Harrelson), and the action and it's direction were just deplorable - I have no idea how it received the praise that it did.
There, I said it.
I was asked to go to this at a special early screening and said yes for two reasons - one, I felt that I owed the couple who invited us because I asked them to see Arnold's big screen comeback earlier this year (The Last Stand), which they hated. Two, I was willing to give this series a second chance, considering there was a new director at the helm and I thought that maybe the second would be better considering the world had already been established and we didn't need much in the way of what I call 'catch-up character development'.
1. The Cast Is...Blah
Before I rip most of the cast, I would like to point out some standout performances. Jena Malone plays a pretty insane axe-wielding tribute and she is fantastic. She steals every scene that she's in and is definitely the most interesting tribute in the movie (and yes, I'm including Katniss). Philip Seymour Hoffman is also fantastic, as usual, and Stanley Tucci is also great. The rest of the cast may as well have been wet blankets. Jennifer Lawrence basically displays two emotions the entire film. Watching Peeta is like staring at one of the mannequins Kevin McAllister controlled with rope to scare away the Wet Bandits for two and a half hours, and his lack of chemistry with Jennifer Lawrence makes their romance entirely unbelievable...even when it's supposed to be real. It's eye-roll inducing. Most of the other tributes receive zero back story and have no personality, so when they show up on screen and take an arrow to the chest, it has absolutely no impact. They may as well be Foot Soldiers or Putties for the nonchalance with which they are dispatched. The emotion that should swell in moments like that just were not earned here.
2. It's Boring
I came into this movie hoping that I would see a bigger, better Games. I mean, we've got the best of the best competing now, right? The winning tributes, going after each other? It's like the All Star Hunger Games.
Unfortunately, it takes about an hour and a half of "PTSD/Let's Show You How Bad The World Is...Again" before it gets to the games. Once it does get to the arena, the action is basically non-existent. It's mostly just sitting around in the jungle until something the arena throws at them happens - no hand to hand combat at all. Aside from one battle with animals, I found this really, really boring. By the way, most of the tributes from the last Hunger Games look like they could take most of the goons found in this sequel. It's like sending our second tier NBA players to compete in the Olympics...oh wait...
3. It's Filler
This movie exists basically as filler between the first and eventual third movie. It rehashes a lot of what happened in the first one, and ends with an expected cliff-hanger for the third. I'm okay with movie cliff-hangers. I mean, the end credits scene in Fast & Furious 6 for example left be breathless leaving the theater. Unfortunately, this one just left me saying, "That's it?". This movie is basically a two and a half hour stretch of something that's normally done within the first three minutes of a futuristic movie via voice over.
Even worse, I don't really care what happens to any of these characters, save for Johanna. Why should I come back for the next movie?
4. Forced Jokes/Bad Writing
The jokes...oh, the jokes. There are some really forced, very poorly executed attempts at humor in this movie. A few jokes here and there made me chuckle - there's a fantastic elevator scene when we're introduced to Jena Malone that is great - but most fall very, very flat. When one character is coming back from the brink of death, another character exclaims, "You were dead! Your heart stopped beating!"..."Well, it's working now." (audience uproars with laughter). Maybe I just don't get the type of humor that they were shooting for here, but most of the time, the audience was laughing with things and I couldn't help but sit there wondering what the hell I had just missed. I didn't expect this movie to be filled with knee-slappers, but I expected the writing to be a bit better than it was.
5. The "Columbiana" Ending
I have a problem with what I call, The "Columbiana" Ending. It's a plan by a character that would only work if the character that it's set up for made that odd one in a million choice. It would be like putting a pack of rabid dogs with a taste for flesh into a van in a parking garage with about fifty cars and hoping that the bad guy not only chooses to drive away from the scene, but also picks that specific van (yes, Columbiana, I'm looking at you).
This story 'ends' with one of those Columbiana choices, and it just doesn't work...at all. There's a whole lot of explaining to do. I'm okay with suspending belief to get the most out of a movie, but this one just asks me to be dumb.
Needless to say, I did not like this movie. If I had to pick a few good things out, I'd say that it looks pretty, that some of the cast members (namely Jena Malone) shine, and I'm really glad the 'shakey-cam' is absent from the first movie (the director is much more mature when shooting action). However, when this series is over, I will probably look back at it the same way that I look at series like Star Wars - I guess I don't 'get it'. There's nothing that stands out here - the story is mediocre, the acting is merely serviceable, and writing is pretty bad, and the action is boring. It certainly doesn't seem to deserve the 90% it's got on Rotten Tomatoes right now. Sometimes I think that critics are afraid to give movies like this an honest score, or they're too connected to the source material.
I'm going to go out on a limb and say that if you liked the first one, you'll like this one. If you didn't, steer clear.
Final Score: 2/5