Directed by Gary RossSpoiler Level: Low
Confession: my girlfriend and I recently sat down to watch the Twilight movies for an ill-planned special edition of our series "The Unenthusiastic Critic" (in which I cajole her into watching films that she really doesn't want to watch). Neither of us had ever seen the Twilight movies—or read the books—so I thought it would be a fun experiment to plunge into this worldwide phenomenon together. Whether we loved them or hated them—and I was fairly certain she, at least, would hate them—it would surely result in an interesting and entertaining post, right?
Wrong. During the first movie we were bored, during the second we were stuporous with depression, and by the third movie we realized we really, really should have given up after the first movie. The films were dull and lifeless, the sexual politics were appalling, the acting was terrible and wooden, and the writing was joyless, cliché-ridden, and featured a never-ending barrage of unforgivable insults to the art of dialogue. We both hated every second of the entire experience, and not in a movies-we-love-to-hate kind of way. Irredeemably awful in a way that only a franchise with a built-in audience would dare to be, those movies didn't inspire conversation, they inspired lethargy and weltschmerz. It was a silent, seven-hour descent into the gray, soul-deadening abyss of film mediocrity: one for which my girlfriend has yet to forgive me, and one from which I was unable to salvage a single paragraph of usable commentary. (Mea culpa, N.)
And so it was with some hesitation that we ventured down to the local multiplex, where something like eight of the twelve screens were showing The Hunger Games. I knew virtually nothing about the movie except that it was—like Twilight—based on a phenomenally successful series of young-adult novels with a teenage heroine and a legion of rabid fans (young and old alike). I had decided not to read the first book in Suzanne Collins's best-selling trilogy—so as to give the film the best possible opportunity to impress—but I have to confess that my expectations were not high. I worried that this franchise might very well send me into another spiral of despair over what the kids were reading these days.
And that just goes to show what I know: The Hunger Games is terrific. Directed by Gary Ross (Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) from a screenplay by Ross, Collins, and Billy Ray (Shattered Glass), The Hunger Games is what all such franchise blockbusters should aspire to be, but what so few ever are: a real, proper movie, with brains, heart, and soul. Forget those dingy Twilight movies: as a piece of stand-alone entertainment, I'd send this one into combat with the best of the Harry Potter franchise and expect it to emerge from the arena triumphant.