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Can you at least be better than The Hunger Games?

Battle Royale movie review
Girl with a scythe. Big deal.

Battle Royale movie review

A bunch of teenagers are dropped into a remote outpost and forced to do battle to survive. Unlike The Hunger Games, though, it has cult-movie status. Therefore, I figured, Battle Royale would be better than the Hollywood product that came after.

Does the scenario of this 2000 Japanese movie sound familiar?

Battle Royale does start off slightly better than The Hunger Games. For one thing, the violence starts early. The film doesn’t bother with set-up or back-story. Suddenly, 40 young people are trying to kill each other with bazookas and scimitars.

However, it soon becomes clear that what seems like narrative expediency is an early indicator that the filmmakers don’t have a fucking clue.

Nothing makes sense in this movie. Having not read the book (yes, it was a book first). I don’t know if the gaps are filled in, but Battle Royale is full of the kind of behaviour that no relatively normal human would ever engage in, not even under these circumstances.

Blood and gore but no redemption

I mentioned that no real reason is given for the central conceit. This isn’t entirely true; near the beginning of the movie, the kids’ former teacher mentions something about how they do not respect adults. However, this is the only reference to any such behaviour. And anyway, this flat-out exposition doesn’t jibe with what anything else we see. Even in the flashbacks.

Oh, and those flashbacks! Not only are they sentimental and tedious, but they are endless. The filmmakers pile them on at the climax, too, as though in a last-ditch effort to derive some meaning out of the rest of the movie.

Even the violence isn’t redemptive. Battle Royale doesn’t shy away from a good Scanners-like head explosion or axe in the skull the way the ultra-squeamish and money-hungry Hunger Games flick does. But the blood and gore isn’t shocking or effective since we don’t give a tinker’s fart about the characters.

Whatever the problems The Hunger Games has, at the end of the day it still has Jennifer Lawrence. The actress brought character to the lifeless Katniss Everdeen, after all. But with the exception of veteran Takeshi Kitano (whose character also makes no sense), the performances are uniformly terrible. Yelling and screaming and bulging eyeballs rule the day. But not for a second do we believe any of these kids to be in any real danger.

Both movies wrap up in totally unsatisfying ways. The Hunger Games holds out its hand for money for a sequel. Battle Royale‘s end makes little sense in context of the rest of the movie. Teens killing teens, ho-hum.

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  1. The book Battle Royale is a better read than the movie is to watch. But it lacks the emotion of the Hunger Games, and is much more nihilistic. The Hunger Games brings hope into the dystopian world and it’s blatantly missing from Battle Royale.

    I’d rather compare Battle Royale to Lord of the Flies in that the students are forced into a situation that changes them, revealing the darker nature within.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful response. I’d like to think the book is better. I do think that the only emotion in The Hunger Games was due to Jennifer Lawrence’s performance – the character of Katniss is woefully underwritten but she brings a warmth and humanity to it totally lacking in Battle Royale. I preferred Battle Royale’s pacing, I just wish the story had been better. And the acting.

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