Thursday, March 5, 2015

A Ghoul Versus The Hunger Games (Part 2)

Click here for Part 1!

Katniss watches the carnage unfold in a daze, as we see kids hacking and stabbing each other to death. It's done with no sound effects and only a muted score, making it all the more harrowing. She finally snaps back to reality and runs into the nearby forest, grabbing a backpack along the way. Twelve tributes die in the opening carnage, each death signaled by a blast from a cannon. With nothing better to do, Katniss ties herself high up in a tree and rests. This is where the movie is at its weakest, as in the book we got several chapters of Katniss trying to come up with a survival plan while she scavenged for food and water. It was very captivating stuff, as it really allowed us to get into her mind state and the desperation she was going through. Here, she just hangs out in a tree.

She gets woken up that night by some voices beneath her, as she sees a gang of career tributes has banded together to take out everyone else. They're comprised of two hulks named Cato and Marvel, two femme fatales named Glimmer and Clove, and... Peeta?! Oh snap! The next day Seneca, who is watching everything unfold via cameras hidden everywhere in the environment, summons up a batch of flames to move Katniss back into competition. She runs afoul of the pack, climbing a nearby tree to escape them. Cato tries to climb after her but lacks her nimbleness, so the group tries to shoot her down with arrows. However they all suck and miss her, leading Katniss to taunt them. Hahah, in the face of insurmountable odds she ain't backing down!

Peeta suggests they set up shop and wait til she's forced to come down, because she can't stay up there forever. The rest agree, and make camp for the night. Morning comes and Katniss finds Rue is in a tree across from her, gesturing at a gigantic wasp nest hanging in the branches above the pack. I'd make a snide comment about how convenient that is, but since we've seen Seneca can conjure things out of thin air to keep the game moving, I'm giving this one a pass. Caesar, doing commentary on the games along with the equally ridiculously dressed Claudius Templesmith, announces those just aren't ANY wasps but tracker jackers, lethal creations whose sting can cause hallucinations in small doses, death in larger ones.

Katniss climbs over to the branch and silently cuts it down, doing her best not to wake up the pack despite getting stung numerous times. The hive crashes to the ground and sends everyone scattering, except for Glimmer who is unlucky enough to receive the brunt of the tracker jackers' wrath. She gets stung into FUCKING OBLIVION, a tripping Katniss climbing down the tree and having the wherewithal to pry to bow out of her puffy hands. Peeta runs up to her and tells her to GTFO, making absolutely no attempt to kill her despite her being completely at his mercy. She takes his advice, but soon passes out from all of the tracker jack venom in her system. She regains consciousness two days later, finding out Rue has been taking care of her the entire time.

Rue tells her Cato's crew has all their supplies in a small camp down by the lake, Katniss cooking up a plan to raid it. She has Rue set a bunch of fires to draw them away while she sneaks down, finding they've left one guard behind. Before she can act, another tribute (nicknamed Foxface) sneaks into the field and grabs some supplies of their own. The entire area has been mined, but Foxface dances through all of them to safety. The guards sees her and takes off in pursuit, leaving Katniss free to set off the mines and explodinate everything in sight. She returns to find Rue being attacked by Marvel, who stabs the young girl with a spear before Katniss takes him out with an arrow. She slowly dies in Katniss' arms, asking her to sing her a song.

Katniss despairs over her fallen friend, arranging flowers over her body and giving a three finger salute to the cameras before leaving. We see the residents of District 11 watching this over a giant TV screen in the center of their village, returning the salute. This leads to a full out riot, which wasn't present in the book but actually makes sense here in the grand scheme of things as we'll see in the next movie. This is one of the advantages to filming a movie series AFTER the books have all been published, you can insert foreshadowing to great effect. But you can also stick in flat out WEIRD scenes, like the next one of Haymitch trying to sell Seneca on the idea of making the competition all about the “love” between Katniss and Peeta. Why the hell is Haymitch even allowed to talk to Seneca? Better yet, why would Seneca listen to him?

This is made even more batshit crazy when Seneca brings this idea up to President Snow, who warns him against it so he does it anyway. WHAT THE FUCK. There's been several Snow/Seneca scenes in the movie, and they're all weird as hell. They barely add anything to the film, I guess Snow's actor, the legendary Donald Sutherland, had to have SOMETHING to do since he was barely in the book. Seneca's grand idea is to announce to the arena they're amending the games and there can now be TWO victors as long as they're from the same district. Thinking of Peeta, Katniss goes looking for him... and finds him within a minute. That's, um, pretty fucking impressive.

I should amend that, he finds her in a manner of speaking, as he has- deep breath here- painting himself to blend in with the rocks on the ground. I don't even... sure, they're being ONE HUNDRED PERCENT loyal to the book here, but is that a good thing when that was stupid as hell in the first place? Discounting how he had the time to paint himself up in such an elaborate manner, WHY did he do this? What was his endgame? Was he just planning on lying out in the open for the rest of the tournament instead of trying to find a cave or something to hide in? Did he KNOW Katniss was going to magically find him? Bah! Stupidity is stupid.

Peeta has a nasty gash in his leg, Katniss taking him to a cave to hide. WOW, she really thinks outside of the box, this one! What's the matter, they couldn't find some mud to go lie in? Oh by the way, did you forget that this is a Young Adult movie? Katniss suddenly remembers and kisses him on the cheek, so NATURALLY we cut to Gale back at home watching this and looking agonized. LOVE TRIANGLE IN THE MOTHERFUCKING HOUSE! Wow, it's been a LONG time since we've had one of those, eh? A strange tone begins pulsing outside, Katniss investigating and finding a gift from a sponsor. Inside is a note from Haymitch that says “You call that a kiss?”, along with a bowl of soup. She goes back inside to feed it to Peeta, where he tells her about how he's had feelings for her since the moment he first saw her.

Another announcement rings out, saying at sunrise the Cornucopia will have a “feast”, containing something that each contest desperately needs. Katniss concludes this will include medicine for Peeta's leg, readying up her gear to go get it. Peeta tries to stop her so she kisses him full on the lips, the movie instantly cutting back to Gale. Hahah, oh Hunger Games... He eventually falls asleep and she sneaks out, finding the Cornucopia has four backpacks on table, each labeled with a number of the remaining districts: 2, 5, 11, and 12. Foxface runs out and grabs 5 with no fanfare so Katniss attempts the same, only she finds Clove not too far away. They get into a vicious looking brawl, Clove gaining the upper hand and slitting Katniss' throat. No wait, that's what she SHOULD have done. Instead, she remembers her Bond Villain training and begins to monologue.

On hour five of her megalomaniac rant, Thresh, the other tribute from District 11 shows up and- hold on. THRESH IS ALSO BLACK?!? FUCK THIS MOVIE SO HARD! I'm so sick of it ruining all these characters by making them-

The boy tribute from District 11, Thresh, has the same dark skin as Rue...

-nevermind, carry on. Thresh grabs Clove and BRUTALLY smashes her head against the side of the Cornucopia to kill her. That is something I haven't mentioned yet, this is one of the hardest PG-13 movies of the last decade. In this world of school shootings and 9/11 where movies get censored for the most moronic things imaginable, it's even a miracle this movie got made since most of these characters are YOUNG teenagers, let alone the fact most of their killing takes place fully on camera. Ross directed this with utmost class, letting the savage actions of the contestants speak for themselves without glorifying it or making it too gratuitous like a lesser director surely would have done.

Thresh does not kill Katniss however, saying he's letting her live this one time “for Rue”. Katniss takes her backpack and returns to Peeta, applying the medicine and falling asleep next to him. In the morning his wound has almost completely healed, all of the infection it was causing gone. They talk about how they're going to win this thing and go home together, which is lacking one of the biggest narratives from the book. See, the entire time Katniss was trying to put on a show for the sponsors by buying into Peeta's story and faking falling into love with him. She was torn about it, as she slowly began to develop genuine feelings for him, which again gave us a very personal connection with her. Here, it seems like she is simply falling for him with none of the machinations she attempted in the book. You could make the case all of this was due to Haymitch's note, but it'd be one VERY weak case.

They go out to forage for food, Katniss going hunting while Peeta picks berries. When she hears a cannon go off she freaks out and goes running to find him, relived when he's still standing. She slaps the berries out of his hand he was holding, telling him they're toxic nightlock berries. They discover the cannon was for Foxface, who made the mistake of sampling some of the berries Peeta had already picked. That only leaves us with Cato and Thresh still out there, Katniss bringing some berries along with her in case Cato is a fan of them. Whoops, spoke too soon. Just Cato remains, because another cannon blast signals Thresh has met his end.

Cato isn't the only danger out there though, as they get attacked by mutant CGI dogs that shrug off Katniss' arrows. They make it to the Cornucopia, climbing on top to get away from the Resident Evil rejects. Ah, THERE'S Cato! That all worked out marvelously well. After a short battle Katniss shoots him off the roof and into the pack of dogs who begin to devour him, our heroine firing one more arrow at him to put him out of his misery. Well hey, that's that, right? The 74th Annual Hunger Games are done, and for the first time we have two win- PSYCHE! One more announcement rings out, saying they were just kidding about that whole dual winners thing and now one of them has to die. Peeta tells her to shoot him, but she's all “fuck that!” and pulls out the berries.

Claudius hastily cuts in over the intercom and implores them to stop, declaring them the winners of the event. With the credits looming, the film goes through a rapid fire succession of scenes. Haymitch warns Katniss that Snow is going to be livid at her for showing him up with her berry stunt, coaching her on what she should say for their upcoming interview on Caesar's show. Seneca gets led by two guards into a room that he is locked, finding it empty save a bowl of the nightlock berries. Katniss and Peeta return to the train, taking it to an uncertain future where the Erudite are surely planning more mischief to fuck with the Dauntless- wait, I think I already made that joke somewhere else.  The two arrive in District 12 to a hero's welcome, while Snow ominously watches them on a monitor.

Cue the credits, set to the Arcade's Fire SUH-WEET track “Abraham's Daughter”.

I DESPISE that ending, because it's BY FAR the most “Hollywood” change of the entire story. In the book Peeta learns that nearly everything Katniss did after finding him was a show for the sponsors, giving it a magnificently beautiful downer ending. Peeta believed every word and action she did was because she shared his feelings, and when he finds out she didn't at his utmost happiness is what I call a PERFECT ending. Life never works out that way, despite what so many of these Young Adult stories would have you believe. Suzanne Collins' entire trilogy is a deconstruction of these tropes and by-the-numbers structures, which is why I cherish them.

But we can't end our movie like that, can we? Everyone has to go home with some sense of happiness, right? Rhaargh! However, the ending isn't bad enough to ruin the movie for me, so it's not THAT offensive. This is probably my fifth time seeing the movie, and I think it only gets better with time. It's not without its large flaws as I pointed out, but for the level of craftsmanship put into it, it sits very high on the blockbuster throne. Despite everyone putting on a fantastic performance, the entire thing would have fallen apart without Jennifer Lawrence there to tie everything together in a neat little bow. To say she was the MVP of the film is the understatement of the decade, this is one of those films I couldn't imagine ANYONE else with the talent to carry it like she did. PERHAPS Shailene Woodley, because her Tris in Divergent was pretty special, but it didn't have the older/younger sister dynamic that Katniss and Prim shared.

Even with so much of her character left on the editing room floor, Lawrence was able to infuse Katniss with more emotion and substance than virtually all of today's action heroes. She is, quite simply, the Real Deal and we're lucky to witness her talent unfold. Josh Hutcherson's Peeta fell short of that level as all of his best dialogue from the book didn't make it in due to his reduced screen time, but at least I BELIEVED he was in love with Katniss. Their maybe half hour relationship captured more depth than freaking FIVE MOVIES of Bella and Edward, although that isn't saying much. Physical cues and body language can go a long way, that's a lesson maybe more directors and actors should learn.

The film was rightfully a hit in every since of the word, steamrolling its way to the third largest box office opening of ALL TIME, trailing only Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 and the Dark Knight Returns, both of which already had a large built in audience due to the fact they were sequels. It went on to gross nearly 700 million dollars worldwide, AND even pleased numerous critics to earn a very healthy 84% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. But enough about those minor accomplishments, how does it score on the Twilight Meter?

Step One. Start off with a completely bland boring uninteresting dark haired young woman who starts off as nothing special. She has to be a loner who only has one interest/hobby in her life.

This definitely doesn't apply to book Katniss, but I'm afraid it does sum up movie Katniss pretty well. +1 point for a score of 1/7.

Step Two. She will have a single male best friend that she only thinks of “as a friend or like a brother”. He, of course, pines for her daily to love him like he secretly loves her.

Yikes! How ya doing, Gale? We're off to a terrible start at 2/7.

Step Three. Have her suddenly become the most important person in the world through a combination of the supernatural, a hidden talent she didn't know she had, or an indomitable will.

While this will apply in the later films, it certainly doesn't here. You knew Katniss wasn't going to die, but I never felt she was this Super Magical Hero that was going to conquer all. No points to keep the score at 2/7.

Step Four. Make sure she only has one parent, usually a mother but that's flexible. The other parent is gone either through divorce, death, or mysteriously vanishing when she was young.

Geez, it's kind of amazing how formulaic this movie was when you look back at it... +1 point for a score of 3/7.

Step Five. Throw her into a Love Triangle with two men, one of whom is the aforementioned best friend she's known her entire life and the other an enigmatic stranger she instantly prefers. Bonus if the stranger is introduced saving her life.

I joked about there being a Love Triangle, but in reality it was no such thing. Score stays at 3/7.

Step Six. Add a villain. The villain isn't important at all so we don't need any kind of development for him. In fact, the more faceless and generic he is the better because that's just taking time away from the Love Triangle.

This wasn't that kind of story. No points for a score of 3/7 still.

Step Seven. Make sure whatever world changing events going on in the story are minimized so they can take a backseat to the Love Triangle.

No Love Triangle to speak of, so that gives us a final score of 3/7. This score is rather deceptive, as the film certainly had more things to say than that score would indicate. Like I said earlier, Collins really subverted A LOT of these common tropes.

0: Congratulations! Your fictional world is so original and creative it's almost guaranteed it'll get ignored by mainstream audiences!

1 – 2: A very nice breath of fresh air, it was great to see a unique spin on well worn material.

3 – 4: I feel like I've seen this a million times already, and will see it a million more.

5 – 6: Seriously, why even bother making this when you should have just been working on new features for Twilight: The Tenth Anniversary Blu-Ray?

7: You should be expecting a call from Stephenie Meyer's lawyers ANY minute now.