The second of what has now become a trilogy in four parts, Katniss Everdeen is back for another round of what is ultimately a bland and very derivative feeling teen dystopia thriller. By now everyone gets the idea, this is a mix of regurgitated ideas that have been done before in the likes of Battle Royale, Lord of the Flies, Nineteen Eighty-Four and The Running Man. But it's not entirely hideous despite some problems that really should have been ironed out coming back for a second go. There are a few new flaws and merits which contribute to whether this story comes out fighting or just trips itself over on more jungle deathtraps.
Now while it's true that the whole thing is very po-faced and lacking a general sort of charisma, it isn't a totally boring setup, as the victors from the previous film are paraded in front of the masses to subdue the revolutionary stirrings and in return enjoy their winnings. Unfortunately they don't do a good enough job and end up being forced back into the arena as part of the scheme being cooked up by those in power to destroy the hope of the people. The problem is the running time needs to do all of this and then repeat all of the first story's training and battle chapters, and it takes way too long getting there. Despite some interesting moments it drags a lot during the first act and the action beats during the later parts don't quite manage to pull things together, even if the set pieces are fun (Killer fog! Killer apes! Killer whirlpool!). By the end the chase sequences just add a lack of clarity of who is doing what and why as the final reveal gets rushed in for a sequel bait cliff hanger.
It's a definite shot in the arm when they finally get to the advertised deathmatch though, especially when some characters that feel alive come into the plot; chiefly the angry Johanna and the seedy Finnick. They don't have a of depth but at least they're memorable, maybe they'd have been better cast as the leads. Most of the others are faceless cannon fodder or gimmicks like the pair with teeth filed to a point - they don't get enough screen time to make a real impact. It's just a shame the central characters are so dull, particularly the romantic interests which come across as being forced when both guys are so flat and wooden. Katniss herself gets some PTSD drama and plenty of frowning and/or shouting to do but it's not the most engaging stuff. The best roles of the President and the Games Maker are really underused, their plotting behind the scenes is so much more interesting than the tedious love triangle and even some of the survival sequences. Even some of the smaller roles in the Capital are good; they should have a real life show hosted by Stanley Tucci and his horrifying teeth. If only these were the main characters, maybe a film about excessive partying and scheming villains would be more fun.
DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (2013)
Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) gives the finger to doctors saying he's got 30 days to live after being diagnosed with HIV. In fact he gives the finger to a lot of people, but mostly the FDA. After a lot of drinking, substance abuse and praying to God in strip clubs, he slowly learns that he doesn't have to be such a jerk all of the time and builds some real relationships as a result of starting a buyers club - where the sick can pay for a membership to slide around the legal problems of directly purchasing unapproved medical supplies. It's an engaging look at a man realising he's going to lose it all even before getting evicted and ostracized, as well as a touching if mildly clichéd portrait of someone coming to terms with being on the edge and having to fight for something that has a meaning in life.
There are great supporting characters too with Jared Leto's Rayon providing a foil to his negative attitudes and Jennifer Garner as a more functional but effective role as the doctor providing an outlet for Ron's feelings and a way for us to see the workings of the hospital drugs program he's battling against. They are both composites put together for the screenplay from real life accounts but it doesn't diminish the fact this is a strong character piece.