In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.
This Friday, we'll all be boarding the emerald skies when we check out Warner Bros. Green Lantern on the big screen, but a lot more than box office is riding on the power-ring-wielding superhero's shoulders. Here are several things we hope for and expect of the Emerald Knight, and a few reasons why he must not only rule the weekend (which it most likely will) but also claim the title of “Film of the Summer.”
Green Lantern Must Be a Great Movie
Besides making it’s money back and having fans proclaim it’s success, Green Lantern has to be a great movie. It has to be an accessible movie for any novice. One of many reasons that Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies and Sam Raimi’s first two Spider-Man movies were so successful is that they stayed true not only to the heart of their iconic characters, but also appealed to the masses as well. And with this year’s “Sexiest Man Alive” cast as the Emerald Knight, Green Lantern should have no problem bringing in audiences of all ages and genders.
Green Lantern Must Be a Great Comic Book Movie
In addition to appealing to the masses, Green Lantern (especially Hal Jordan's Lantern) is one of the most beloved comic book franchises in the history of the medium. Even when DC tried to make him one of the worst villains in comic book history, it was the fans that yearned and fought for the ring to find him again. While the masses will be going to the theaters in droves, it'll be we comic book geeks who keep coming back for seconds and thirds.
Green Lantern Needs to Contend with Thor, Captain America and X–Men: First Class
On the road to Marvel Comics’ Avengers movie and revitalizing the X–Men film franchise, we’ve already gotten not one, but TWO Marvel movies this summer, and Captain America is on his way. Green Lantern is the lone DC character coming to theaters this year and the world en masse needs to know that DC’s characters are just as good as Marvel’s.
The Comic Book Industry Could Use a Boost in Readership
Comic books have been long thought of as picture books for young boys and overgrown man–children. The dawn of superhero cinema should have changed all that. But sadly, no, it hasn’t - and readership has consistently dropped. A character like Green Lantern, who has been revitalized over the past few years in the comics, should hopefully be able to drive a few moviegoers into a comic store to pick up some great GL stories. Might I suggest “Emerald Twilight,” “The Sinestro War,” and “Blackest Night” to get interested film fans started.
Doesn’t it Seem Like Mr. Reynolds Wants to be an Action Hero?
Ryan Reynolds is a fanboy like a lot of us out there. He’s cast as the “Merc’ with a Mouth,” Deadpool, presumably as soon as a script is ready. He’s dabbled in action movies before (Blade: Trinity, X–Men Origins: Wolverine), and while he makes good money doing romantic comedies, fanboys want to cheer for him. Reynolds has got to know this and at least in some part wants to make more and more of these grand, sweeping action epics.
Movies Like This NEED to be Seen on the Big Screen
Several sites have hyped Green Lantern as the next Star Wars or the superhero version of it, and we all know for better or worse George Lucas’ magnum opus needs to be seen on the big screen to truly enjoy (or despise) all of the amazing effects, action and story. For someone like me, who has read a GL tale or two in his day, I’m inclined to agree with the sentiment. Green Lantern, when done right, is at its heart an enormous character driven sci–fi tale, and not seeing it theaters wouldn’t be doing it justice.
We All Need A Little Hope in Our Lives
The story of Hal Jordan is often a tragic one, but it’s also a tale of hope and willpower. It’s the story of an earthling who shows amazing amounts of bravery in the face of intergalactic evil. I’m sure that plenty of us would like to even remotely embody what Hal Jordan has over the years; you know, minus those few years where he went crazy. But even so, we’ve all had our bad days, haven’t we?
The Road to the Justice League Starts Here
While I’m not entirely on board with Warner Bros. and DC making a Justice League movie, the companies wants to do so and this will be the first glimpse into its larger mythos with a character who isn’t a bat or a Kryptonian. If Iron Man and Robert Downey Jr. failed to impress, we wouldn't be gearing up for The Avengers. Likewise, if Green Lantern and Ryan Reynolds falter, fans won’t get to see the ultra–cool JLA base on the moon.
The Green Lantern Franchise is Never Ending
For those of you who don’t know, Hal Jordan wasn’t even DC’s first Green Lantern. Alan Scott was. Those two, John Stewart (the GL of the JLA cartoons), the brash Guy Gardner, Tomar Re and the beloved Kilowog are several of the more popular Lanterns, each with their own stories. Each could have at the very least, an animated movie made based on them (although I think it’d be damn cool to see Matthew St. Patrick or Roger Cross as John Stewart). Have I mentioned Kyle Rayner? The Green Lantern universe IS as diverse as any science fiction/fantasy universe out there and Warner Bros. would be wise to mine it for as long as it can.
More DC Comic Book Movies Please
If this movie flops, we’ll be stuck with only Batman and Superman movies to look forward to. DC has so many popular characters – The Flash, Wonder Woman, Hawkman and Green Arrow, just to name a few. For some odd reason the company has had a hugely difficult time bringing any of these characters to the screen (the recent Wonder Woman barely scratches the surface). There is simply no excuse that over half of Marvel’s most popular characters have had at least one film while DC characters have been made to languish in direct–to–video movies only. Not that any of them are bad; go see New Frontier for a great example.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.