Hunger Games: The Empire Strikes Back (A Review)

22 Nov

Having struck a decisive blow against the Empire by calling their bluff and blowing up the Death Star with poisoned berries, Katniss Everdeen is hunted relentlessly by the Evil Emperor Snow, bent on punishing her for raising the concept of rebellion in an otherwise “peaceful” police state.

So the really pressing question becomes: who is Gale in this scenario?

My point is, filler movies don’t have to suck. This is a filler movie. And it doesn’t suck!

And it doesn’t even have Harrison Ford! What is this, witchcraft?

Okay, now that that’s out of my system, I can tell you that  I really liked Catching Fire. You should totally go see it! What’s weird is that I didn’t much like the book. It felt like it was rehashing the same plot as the first installment and not really reaching any new conclusions except that suddenly Katniss was expected to be involved in a love triangle, because we live in a Post-Twilight world.

This is my ideal Post-Twilight world.

The movie, though, took the good themes and ideas swimming around in the muddy narrative of the books and smoothed them out. Like the….

Romance!

I liked the book-ended scenes of Gale/Katniss waking up and Gale saying “Hey, Catnip” because one scene showed us that they loved each other and the other showed us that sometimes war strips you of your ability to love. Sometimes it changes you forever.

Sometimes it means you get to wear weird hipster scarves, even when you’re dirty and poor and hunting in the woods.

Alternately, it was interesting to see the two main Peeta kisses because they’re always a mix between awkwardly self-aware and touchingly genuine. I always liked how forced Peeta and Katniss felt as a couple and they do this time around too, because shoehorning a romance into a fight to the death is so stupid that it demands that I use italics, dammit.

Peeta: Hey, aren’t we about to die?
Katniss: Shh. We’re appealing to the masses. It’s….weirdly ironic, actually.

So. I was able to see why Katniss loves both Gale and Peeta. Gale is her protector; he understands her life in District 12 and he helps her hunt, essentially having become a surrogate after her dad died.

But Peeta is the only other person in her world who understands what she’s been through and I can see her loving him for that. There’s no one else going through the same shit trying to deal with life Post-Games. So, good job, movie, you dealt well with the main thing that pissed me off about the book!

Which leads me to my next good point:

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder!

Woooooo!

No, not the kind brought on by Stanley Tucci’s hair.

The thing I hated about the books was that Katniss was always miraculously saved from having to commit any acts that might be considered morally questionable. Forget the fact that she was fighting for her life, she never had to murder anyone, which is something that would be a fascinating and totally organic thing in a murder-orgy.

“I really need to kill you. Could you do something overtly evil, like stab a little girl in the gut? That’d be great.”

All the deaths she caused were provoked by aggression or were by proxy (e.g. Tracker Jackers.) In this movie, though, Katniss is suffering from PTSD anyway. She pictures herself shooting kids in the chest. She wakes up screaming from nightmares. This is the effect of being involved in a shitty, violent situation and I’m so very, very happy to see it in this movie.

And, finally,

The First Half of the Movie is Awesome!

If you like action flicks, the second half of this film is for you. If you like tense, fascinating fantasy thrillers based on real political issues, then stick to the first 45 minutes. Navigating the tricky waters of rebellion, public image and living with the choices you’ve made is more interesting to me than an arrow in the throat.

Mostly.

So yes, you get a whole new round of Hunger Games at the end, but it’s really leading somewhere this time. It isn’t “Good Contestants vs. Bad Contestants” anymore. It’s the People vs. The Man and that gives me hope for the new movies, too.

I never understood the people (read: everyone but me) who hated the third book. It was the only one I liked, solely because it wasn’t insulated in the arena. It made you realize that the Hunger Games are real, they are not a game and they affect the lives of everyone futilely trying to resist tyranny.

Having Katniss stay in the arena all the time just cuts her off from the rest of the (more interesting) world. It’d be like if Aang spent all his time in the spirit world instead of using his experience there to show us the (way less acid-trippy) culture he’s trying to navigate.

AKA “The plot of Legend of Korra: Season 2.”

Which leads me to my only real criticism:

It’s Still Hilariously Self-Referential.

The Hunger Games are created to pacify the masses with pointless violence and too-convenient romances. They thrive on the tawdry, sordid pleasure that one gets from watching a train wreck. It’s sick, cheap, escapist thrills.

The whole movie is supposed to be a satire. So what do we get?

Exactly what you’d expect.

We get pointless violence and two romances. The movie gives us exactly what it’s mocking. I guess it’d be fine if we didn’t all indulge it so much.

I still highly recommend this movie. It’s beautifully and smoothly shot, it streamlines the book well and the actors are fucking glorious at all times. I would shuck Jennifer Lawrence like a corn husk and light that shit on fire.

Awwww yiiiiiissssss

My conditional blessing goes out to this film. If we’re going to have a pop film, let’s have one with a badass female star and some political discourse along with seeing a dude shot in the head. We’re cultured!

But I still must end with the one image that sticks in my mind from this film and the important question he continues to demand of us:

Yes. Yes, we are.

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3 Responses to “Hunger Games: The Empire Strikes Back (A Review)”

  1. CMrok93 November 22, 2013 at 3:32 pm #

    Great review. A good addition to the franchise, and one that also has you expecting the worst for these characters, but the best for you and your eyes.

  2. Kyle Long November 22, 2013 at 6:52 pm #

    A promising review, but it failed to answer my only real question: Was Finnick as awesome as he deserved to be?

    I enjoyed the books, and so far I’ve enjoyed the movies, but when I think about how they’re structured, I can’t help but feel as though somebody made a mistake. Having a movie about personal life, politics, action, and violence is a great idea, but having a movie about personal life and politics, followed by a movie about action and violence is a much weirder progression. One almost feels as though a smoothie has been left to settle, the veritable slurry of banana pulp sinking through the orange juice as it moves from homogeneous to whatever that other word is that I don’t remember from high school chemistry.

    Do I think there was a better way for them to do the movies? Nope, not really. They worked from the books, which in turn were told first person, so you’re kinda stuck with the format unless you decide to get super flash-backy and weird. Memento territory. Maybe the split-movie format is a stroke of genius, a new wave of storytelling that keeps people from getting bored halfway through. That is a riddle for better men than I.

    Anyway, this was a pretty damn glowing review, and I look forward to seeing the movie sometime down the road. I liked the second book a lot more than the first one, just because it introduced characters that I was supposed to find interesting, instead of nameless chum to be devoured by an army of hormone-fueled sharks (heh, teenagers are the worst).

    Seriously though, what about Finnick?

    • bkcrotty November 23, 2013 at 12:55 am #

      Finnick is PERFECT. Just pretty enough to seem smarmy and just badass enough to be disarming. And gorgeous, too. Pretty pretty pretty.

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