Review: The Hunger Games Catching Fire
PLOT: Katniss Everdeen has returned home after surviving the Hunger Games. Along with her ally Peeta, the two attempt to adjust to a regular life while still being paraded around by the upper class for an upcoming Victor’s Tour. Things change however when the Capitol sees a revolution brewing thanks to Katniss’ rebellious spirit, thus sparking a return for both to another fight to the death for the 75th Annual Hunger Games… Are the odds ever in the audiences favor?
THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE is a rarity. It is a sequel that ably expands on the original film while still living up to its own worth. While the games still play a part in the latest chapter, CATCHING FIRE explores the pressures of representing a society that is falling apart at the seams. When both Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark (Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson) find themselves being placed upon a mantel – what you could call a trophy for the well-to-do - the two feel the pressure of their new found celebrity. What the powers that be do not expect is the citizens of Panem finally fighting back thanks to the inspiration of Katniss and her willingness to stand and fight.
In the opening scene we find the film’s heroine facing her own demons. As a survivor of the first film, she faced death, loss and pain all in the name of keeping the upper echelon of Panem satisfied and entertained. Back at home during an early morning hunt with her true - and secret - love Gale (Liam Hemsworth) her memories seize control in a bout of a post-traumatic stress breakdown. Outwardly, she is a celebrated figure in the games however she still suffers from nightmares of the bloody PG-13 encounters. Upon her return, she looks to keep her family and friends’ safe from what is clearly a dangerous and authoritarian society lead by President Snow (Donald Sutherland). When the great and powerful Snow insists on arranging a meeting with her, she comes to the realization that she has made a very powerful enemy.
In this second installment, Katniss is forced to face an even more brutal battle. The one time champion is thrust back into the violent world thanks to Snow allowing the 75th Hunger Games to pit victors of previous years against each other. Along with Peeta, she is sent to fight against a brand new – and slightly more interesting – set of players. This includes Sam Claflin as Finnick Odair, Jena Malone as Johanna Mason and the wonderfully creative casting of Amanda Plummer and Jeffrey Wright as Wiress and Beetee – what the hell is with these names? Also new to the proceedings is the fantastic Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee, a mysterious game designer that may not have Katniss’ best interest in mind.
Certainly this may all sound excruciatingly complicated for the uninitiated but it is not. I’ve yet to read a single paragraph from author Suzanne Collins bestsellers yet it is not hard to be taken into this strange world. Of course the film manages to present itself well to the many “young adults” that are sure to be watching. Thankfully it strives to be more than that with a fantastic cast and new look thanks to I AM LEGEND director Francis Lawrence (no relation). As much a statement on the detrimental consequence of greed as well as a modern day fable of class vs. class, Ms. Lawrence as Katniss remains a worthy example of female empowerment that is just as vulnerable as she is ferocious.
As for both Effie Trinket and Haymitch Abernathy (Elizabeth Banks and Woody Harrelson), the two colorful district representatives are far more sympathetic as they are heavily affected by the games this time around. Both have much more at stake and it shows by their emotional support, especially since Abernathy is himself at risk of returning as a tribute giving up his lush, alcohol fueled lifestyle. Banks is especially good here as the elaborately painted chaperone for District 12 who is not used to discovering a connection with her tributes. The core ensemble that was developed in THE HUNGER GAMES is a strong one with each of the actors once again offering impressive performances.
As the second film in the series, CATCHING FIRE is given the difficult task of building the franchise as well as whetting the appetite for the next. Occasionally the story feels a tad long especially leading up to the games. Some of the themes presented could have been simplified as opposed to embellished. Even still the nearly two-and-half-hour running time is manageable. The final act especially will excite and frustrate many. Without pointing to an obvious and clear example of a sequel that managed to pull off the same thing remarkable well, the final shot here worked for me. The story is far from over and I’m looking forward to seeing exactly how the revolution that is beginning on-screen will transpire.
Director Lawrence has taken to this world with confidence without sacrificing what Gary Ross had brought the first time around. The violence is slightly toned down as the games themselves are not as prominent here. Some audiences may even be thankful that the shaky cam and quick cuts from the first are considerably less noticeable. Thankfully this second feature is equal - if occasionally superior – to the first film. If this is any indication of what is to come, THE HUNGER GAMES may very well be a franchise to remember. With an impressive cast, a good script by Simon Beaufoy with Michael Arndt and and an intriguing story, this is one cinematic revolution that fans are sure to rejoice in.
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