‘The Hunger Games’: What the critics said in 2012
“The Hunger Games” film series takes its final bow this weekend when “Mockingjay - Part 2” opens in theaters. The final verdict on the franchise? A flaming success.
Back in 2012, Lionsgate knew it had something special when it released the first film based on Suzanne Collins’ popular YA books. But folks at the production company were surely still anxiously checking what critics had to say about their tentpole movie.
The first “Hunger Games” installment holds an 84% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes and a 67 on Metacritic.
Critics largely praised Jennifer Lawrence’s performance, though some had a hard time believing her womanly figure could have come from a dystopian society on the brink of starvation. The use of handheld cameras was widely panned, and when Francis Lawrence took over the franchise, he quickly ditched the shaky cam. As for whether the film showed too much bloodshed or didn’t get violent enough, critics were divided.
Read on for what critics had to say about the movie upon its release in 2012:
“It is a thrilling, intelligent, deeply-felt movie that does not play by the typical rules of franchise building in modern Hollywood. It seems appropriate that Lionsgate is releasing this instead of one of the major studios, because there's an indie sensibility at work in the film that makes it feel surprisingly fresh.”
“This ‘Hunger Games’ is a muscular, honorable, unflinching translation of Collins’ vision. It’s brutal where it needs to be, particularly when children fight and bleed.”
The New York Times:
“A few years ago Ms. Lawrence might have looked hungry enough to play Katniss, but now, at 21, her seductive, womanly figure makes a bad fit for a dystopian fantasy about a people starved into submission. The graver problem is a disengaged performance that rarely suggests the terrors Katniss faces, including the fatalism that originally hangs on her like a shroud. What finally saves the character and film both is the image of her on the run, moving relentlessly forward.”
The Los Angeles Times:
“An actress who specializes in combining formidable strength of will with convincing vulnerability, Lawrence is the key factor in making ‘Hunger Games’ an involving popular entertainment with strong narrative drive that holds our attention by sticking as close to the book's outline as it can manage.”
David Thompson, for New Republic:
“The film shows precious little hunger and no sense of game. It’s a terrible movie…. The film should have suspense, fear, and desperation, all focused on Katniss, but Lawrence seems reserved and biding her time…. I grieve for Jennifer Lawrence to think that vital years will be given over to the drivel of this franchise.”
“Director Gary Ross was able to take things pretty far in terms of the violence, but I can’t help but wonder if the same material would have earned an R-rating if you cared a bit more about the children that were being slaughtered and if Ross had kept the camera steady rather than erratically whirling it around so as to distort what was actually going on.”
“While ‘The Hunger Games’ is not a non-stop fight-to-the-death action film, it succeeds at being something even more interesting – a fascinating and disturbing (not to mention tense) character drama that successfully captures the core themes of the book.
Leonard Maltin, for Indiewire:
“I felt comforted by the presence of two young actors I admire, Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson. Given the downbeat nature of the story, set in a bleak future world, having warm-blooded actors who can bring life and depth to their characters is crucial…. It isn’t difficult to figure out where the story is headed most of the time; suspense is not this movie’s strongest suit. Given that, ‘The Hunger Games’ feels long, and can’t fully justify filling more than two hours’ time. What’s more, the finale is weak, even within the constraints of a tale that is meant to be continued.”
The New Yorker:
“In ‘The Hunger Games,’ as Katniss — a more dynamic version of Ree — she has a lightly burnished copper complexion, and when she’s still, there’s something luminous, slightly otherworldly about her. Her gravity and her steady gaze make her a fine heroine…. But the rest of “The Hunger Games” is pretty much a disaster—disjointed, muffled, and even, at times, boring.”
“‘The Hunger Games’ is a deliberate mix of archness in the TV studios, where camp MCs comment on the action, and archery out in the wilderness, where the competitors die. It's far too long and much inferior to the ferocious Japanese ‘Battle Royale.’ Younger audiences may well be intrigued, but I’d be surprised if it proves as popular as the Twilight series, which is more openly necrophilic in a romantic ‘swoon to death’ way.”
San Diego Union Tribune:
“Much of the film’s success can be placed at the feet of Jennifer Lawrence, who imbues the heroine, Katniss Everdeen, with the same tough intelligence she showed in her Oscar-nominated performance in 2010’s ‘Winter’s Bone.’ Katniss is no Bella, weak in the knees over the steamy gaze of some teenage vampire.”
“‘Twilight,’ this isn't: While both franchises feature a love triangle and lethal kids, ‘Games’ relies more on bloodlust than sexual lust. And for the most part, it works. Elizabeth Banks and Stanley Tucci get to chew scenery as unctuous officials happy to see casualties mount. Woody Harrelson plays an appealing Haymitch Abernathy, the hard-drinking mentor who once hacked his way to victory and has Katniss’ back…. In trying to match the novel’s myriad cast, ‘Games’ paints a raft of characters it can't support, leaving deaths that should be heartrending more as a pause in the action.”
“‘The Hunger Games’ is an effective entertainment, and Jennifer Lawrence is strong and convincing in the central role. But the film leapfrogs obvious questions in its path, and avoids the opportunities sci-fi provides for social criticism; compare its world with the dystopias in ‘Gattaca’ or ‘The Truman Show.’ Director Gary Ross and his writers (including the series' author, Suzanne Collins) obviously think their audience wants to see lots of hunting-and-survival scenes, and has no interest in people talking about how a cruel class system is using them. Well, maybe they’re right. But I found the movie too long and deliberate as it negotiated the outskirts of its moral issues.”