Review: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
PLOT: Fresh from their win at the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) are now darlings of the capital. But, the tyrannical President Snow (Donald Sutherland) is not pleased with Katniss’ fame or the burgeoning resistance movement which has adopted her Mockingjay trademark as their emblem. To destroy her, Snow hatches a plan with new game maker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to have a new Hunger Games that will pit Katniss and Peeta against tributes reaped from a pool of former winners.
REVIEW: If the first HUNGER GAMES was a blockbuster, the follow-up- CATCHING FIRE- seems poised to be a phenomenon. In two years since the first film, Jennifer Lawrence has not only won an Oscar (for SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK) but also become one of the most sought-after actresses in Hollywood. The charisma that helped make the first movie such a smash is back on display here, with Lawrence being even better than she was in the last outing, buoyed no doubt by the confidence that comes with an Oscar.
CATCHING FIRE picks up right where THE HUNGER GAMES left off, and despite a change of directors, it feels like a pretty seamless follow-up. Francis Lawrence is a bit of a journeyman director, but that’s probably the thing that makes him so successful here, in that he doesn’t try too hard to differentiate his vision of the material from that of former director Gary Ross. Other than a budget boost which means better CGI and more muscular action set-pieces, you’d be hard pressed to spot any major differences in the craft behind the two films, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
THE HUNGER GAMES series if often compared to the TWILIGHT movies, but the appeal of this series is much broader. This is partly due to the material, but mostly due to Lawrence. The books by Suzanne Collins are adhered to closely (maybe too closely as the result is a 146 minute run-time that drags a bit) and while many have pegged it as a bit of a BATTLE ROYALE clone, it can’t be denied that the world created by Collins makes for a good yarn. While I enjoyed the first one, I was surprised by how invested I got with Katniss, Peeta and the rest of the tributes this time out, which may also be a result of the pumped up cast, which includes Jeffrey Wright, a charismatic Sam Claflin and a scene-stealing Jena Malone.
Nevertheless, without Lawrence this series wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining. She’s just oozes star-quality, and despite her recent success in “adult” parts, Lawrence sinks her teeth into the role with as much gusto as any of her other more acclaimed performances. She’s able to both convey the brutality of the games by making Katniss a more battle-hardened warrior this time out, which also finding moments of levity, such as her priceless reaction to an impromptu striptease by Malone in an elevator.
The other actors are also quite good, with Hutcherson making for a likable Peeta. I’ve been rough on Liam Hemsworth in reviews of this other movies, but he suits the part of Gale Hawthorne, although whether he’s ultimately up to the part will be decided by the bigger role he’ll play in MOCKINGJAY. Stanley Tucci is back to camp it up as Hunger Games host Caesar Flickerman (although his cohort from the first film, Toby Jones only gets a quick cameo), while Elizabeth Banks somehow manages to imbue the cartoonish Effie Trinket-with her outlandish outfits and hair- with some humanity. Woody Harrelson also returns as Haymitch, the former victor turned mentor for Katniss and Peeta, while Sutherland is appropriately cruel as President Snow.
The series is given a boost of gravitas by Philip Seymour Hoffman as the new game maker Plutarch, and unlike the other Capitol players, doesn’t have to contend with outlandish hair and makeup. Hoffman admirably underplays the part, making him a tough character to pin down, which suits the part and should continue on through the next two films. Sam Claflin, as former winner Finnick Odair, is ideally cast in a surprisingly meaty part, and is no doubt another heartthrob in the making for the series’ core young female fan base. He’s actually pretty good here; the only downside being that he somewhat overwhelms Hutcherson thanks to his undeniable chemistry with Lawrence.
In the end, whether or not you’ll like CATCHING FIRE depends on what you thought of the first film. If you enjoyed it, you’ll obviously like this one too as its maybe even a bit better. While it’s not the most original series ever, it’s a very entertaining one, and it can’t be denied that the series is tailor-made for Lawrence, whose career as a superstar will likely continue on long after the series has ended.
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