Fair warning: I really didn’t like this movie.
I just don’t see the appeal of a movie that offers up the spectacle of kids brutally killing kids as its only raison d’être. And really, there is nothing else here.
Or if there is something else, it’s this: a supposed critique of the kind of world that would enjoy watching kids kill other kids. But, we are clearly that world. We made this movie a top-grosser for the summer. It’s impossible to defend the movie as a critique without being the objet of that supposed critique.
(A different objection to the same possibility arises from a quick look at the villains here. They are not the people organizing the bloodsport. In fact, the movie seems pretty unconcerned with them aside from suggesting they are weird, rich and mean-spirited (except for those helping the participants learn to survive). No the real villains in this movie are the bad kids who deserve to die. When they die we are supposed to cheer, or at least feel satisfied. By way of contrast, when the bad TV producer dies, it’s off-screen and only cleverly hinted at, and to the extent we pay attention to it, it seems we might even be expected to have some sympathy for him. All of this screams out that the central conflict is not between kids and their violent culture. It is between different kinds of kids, some of whom we like and the others who are simply bad kids who deserve to die.)
The other defence of the film I’ve heard a lot is that it offers a female role model. I think I get where it’s coming from and want to sympathize. The protagonist has skills and lord knows we need more strong, skilled, female role models. But I can’t help thinking: is hyper-violent masculinity layered over old-school maternal stereotypes really the best image of a strong woman we can imagine for young girls? Are we going to pretend Rambo-mom represents positive progress?* It’s infuriating that we seem ready to do just that.
But all that said, these possibilities are only theoretical: there’s nothing here but the spectacle of kids killing kids.
ps–It’s possible that the story might work very differently and perhaps better as a book. I recognize that. (But don’t really feel like reading about kids killing kids either.)
pps–the villain from Ghost Rider is one of the villains here (if you can be the villain with so little screen time and so little importance for the plot). Clearly there is some kind of comeback attempt underway. I’d say that equally clearly, it’s getting off to a slow start.
*–note to self: if we take Rambo-mom as positive progress, what does this say about what we value in individuals or about our sense of the meaning of violence?