By Dan Metcalf, Jr.
Clipper Film Correspondent
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Lionsgate)
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some frightening images, thematic elements, a suggestive situation and language.
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Toby Jones, Sam Claflin, Jena Malone, Lynn Cohen, Amanda Plummer, Meta Golding, Bruno Gunn, Alan Ritchson, Stephanie Leigh Schlund, E. Roger Mitchell, Maria Howell, Elena Sanchez, Bobby Jordan, John Casino, Willow Shields, Paula Malcomson, Patrick St. Esprit, Stef Dawson, Jack Quaid.
Written by Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt, based on the novel "Catching Fire" by Suzanne Collins.
Directed by Francis Lawrence.
I liked, but did not love the 2012 film adaptation of Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games and thought it didn't warrant all the hype it got. You often get that whenever a movie version of a beloved book hits the big screen. More often than not, the movies don't capture the essence of the literary source, leaving disheartened book fans and befuddled moviegoers. Despite the tepid reviews, The Hunger Games cleaned up at the box office, ushering in the resulting sequel The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. When your first installment of a film series makes a lot of money, you also get the luxury of a bigger budget, which manifests itself quite effectively in Catching Fire.
Jennifer Lawrence returns as Katniss Everdeen, the victorious co-winner of the 74th Hunger Games, along with Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mullark, her companion representative from the Panem (future America) mining community of District 12. The story picks up with President Snow (Donald Sutherland) still bristling over Katniss' act of defiance, which allowed for the first ever draw in the Hunger Games – a sporting event/reality TV show that keeps the masses entertained as their totalitarian government quietly represses them. Part of the Katniss/Peeta game strategy was to fake a romance that made them into media darlings, despite Katniss' feelings for Gail (Liam Hemsworth).
The story picks up as Katniss and Peeta embark on a victory tour across the country. The star-crossed “lovers” are uncomfortable with their new found stardom, especially since their defiance has sparked a revolution – especially in the poorer districts. They soon discover that President Snow has tightened his grip over the public – by way of floggings and executions. Snow also hires a new “game maker” named Plutarch (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to create a mor challenging scenario for the upcoming 75th Hunger Games. Snow adds a bigger twist when he requires all the games contestants to come from a pool of former winners, no matter how old or capable. Katniss and Peeta being only 2 of 3 District 12 winners places them back in the games, and looking for new allies. Those allies include Finnick (Sam Clafin), Johanna (Jena Malone), Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), and Wiress (Amanda Plummer).
As the competition begins, the obstacles and traps inside the game arena get more deadly as the contestants are quickly killed off. Working together, Katniss, Peeta and their allies devise a plan to circumvent the technology of the arena, in the hope that they might be able to get an upper hand on the competition – and the oppressive government. What follows is a surprise ally (unless you've read the book) and a rather abrupt cliffhanger (leading into the next Mockingjay films, based on the third and final Hunger Games novel).
I liked Catching Fire a lot more than first Hunger Games movie for a several reasons. First, with a bigger budget comes a greater spectacle in terms of special effects and star quality (including Hoffman, Wright and Plummer). Second is a much better script, complete with a fair amount of clever dialogue and humor that was missing from the first movie. Third is a great performance from Lawrence, who is handed a much more complex scenario one would expect from surviving such a barbaric tableau. She is definitely one of the best young actors working today, and I hope she can keep it up. There are other reasons to like Catching Fire a little more than the first movie, including a more skilled director (Francis Lawrence) who keeps the story moving a little faster than his predecessor.
I'm still not convinced that a Hunger Games scenario could exist (kids fighting to the death for entertainment), but Collins has a few pertinent things to say about totalitarianism, albeit a little less deep than Orwell.
Either way, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire certainly has my attention now, and looking forward to the final installments.