“Hunger Games - Catching Fire”
2 hours, 26 minutes
Jennifer Lawrence continues to amaze. While her contemporaries are flaming out left and right, this girl continues to show she has a great head on her shoulders and the makings of a bona fide long-term movie star. When she starred in “The Hunger Games” last year, she was merely an Academy Award nominated actress, one of the youngest ever to achieve that honor. This year she returns as an Academy Award-winning actress, having nabbed the top prize for a bravura performance in an otherwise lightweight movie, “The Silver Linings Playbook.” By balancing big-budget fantasy like this week’s “Hunger Games” sequel “Catching Fire,” and the upcoming “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” with meaty, prestige films like “Playbook,” and next month’s “American Hustle,” Lawrence is positioning herself to be either the next Julia Roberts or Meryl Streep. Or maybe a little bit of both.
“Catching Fire” is very good, especially considering it’s the weakest of the three books on which this series is based. Suzanne Collins dystopic tale follows the travails of a young girl as she is first forced to take part in a deadly contest at the behest of a dictatorial government, then thrust into the role of an unwilling rebel leader as the have-nots begin to rise up against their oppressors. In keeping with current tradition, the final book in the series will be divided into two films, making “Fire” the second of four. It finds Katniss, our heroine, having bluffed her way into winning the original Hunger Games, now taking on the role of Victor, a supposedly prestigious position, but really just a bitter reminder of how little power the Districts have against the Capitol. Yes, she lives in a big house, but this brings the poverty around her into starker focus. And things are getting worse. Since her act of defiance in the first story, unrest is growing and President Snow, played evilly by Donald Sutherland, makes a special trip to visit Katniss in District 12. He makes it clear to her that everyone’s safety depends upon Katniss playing the role of grateful, humble servant of the capitol, and most of all, that her sham love affair with fellow Victor Peeta never become anything less than a fairytale union.
Katniss and Peeta embark on a tour of the Districts, displaying their love and the mercy of the Capitol for all to see, but to no avail. The riots are increasing and public executions and mass internments are increasing right along with them. Katniss, whether she wants to be or not, has become a lightning rod for the rebellion and, in an effort to snuff her out, Snow, with the aid of his new Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee, devises a plan to send the majority of the living victors back into the arena for the 75th anniversary of the original Hunger Games. Peeta and Katniss are abruptly hurled back into the ring, with all the reality TV pageantry that goes along with it. This time, however, things are different. On the one hand, all of the contestants are confirmed killers, but on the other, none of them want to be a part of it, each having been told that they’d done their duty and that they could live in peace. Primary among the other contestants are Johanna, a feisty, bitter killer with a pure hatred of the Capitol, and Finnik, a pretty boy with a killer smile and a very sharp spear.
For the 75th Anniversary, the designers have come up with something special for the contestants, but it soon becomes apparent that no one, not even the gamesmakers themselves, can predict what’s in store.
All of the books in the “Hunger Games” series are good, but I was less blown away by this one because it seemed a little derivative of the first book. Let’s go back into the Hunger Games, but this time do it even bigger. That’s kind of lazy sequel writing. The film, however, spends a lot of time on the intrigue and the character development that occurs before the actual games begin, leaving the arena sequences to take up only the last quarter or so of the film. This attention to detail and the patience to build toward a dramatic climax adds new layers and dimensions to the contest, giving the Games a freshness and a sense of “anything can happen.” That said, the Games are the weakest part of the film - entertaining, certainly, but a little rushed and cliche. Interesting, then, that this part of the story included two of the most interesting characters of the whole film, aside from Lawrence’s Katniss. Johanna, played by Jena Malone, and Finnik, played by Sam Claflin, are like live wires, imbuing their characters and their subsequent scenes with great energy.
Purists of the book had a lot to say about the casting of these two, some good, some bad, but I am fully on board. Also very good is Jeffrey Wright as the tech-nerd Beetee, who is great despite looking almost nothing like I pictured the character from the book.
“Catching Fire” broke all kinds of records with its box office this weekend, becoming one of the biggest non-3D openings ever. It makes me happy when a movie that is so wildly popular is also so good. While the rest of us will be thankful for being full this week, I think it’s safe to say that Lionsgate will be thankful for a little “Hunger.”
“Catching Fire” is rated PG-13 for violence and brief language.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.