The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (film review)
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (20013)
2 hrs. 26 mins.
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Woody Harrelson, Amanda Plummer, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Lenny Kravitz, Jena Malone and Jeffrey Wright
Directed by: Francis Lawrence
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre: Science Fiction/Action & Adventure/Fantasy
Critic’s rating: *** ½ stars (out of 4 stars)
‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ does what a formidable sequel should to do in concept…capitalize on the enormous success of its predecessor and leave the audience wanting more in the second serving. Well, director Francis Lawrence (‘I Am Legend’, ‘Water For Elephants’) ensures that the middle chapter for this frenetic film franchise will maintain its movie-making momentum and fill the void for the teen market and young adults that are still missing the box office bravado from the likes of the dormant ‘Twilight’ and ‘Harry Potter’ movie series.
Oscar-winner Jennifer Lawrence is back as the defiant diva Katniss Everdeen, whose disdain for the corruptible authority and awful psychological strain caused by the deadly games tests her athletic resilience and unresolved conflict in this highly anticipated kinetic follow-up. Lawrence (no relation to his leading lady Jennifer) takes over the directorial reins from Gary Ross, who oversaw the original blueprint in 2012. ‘The Hunger Games’ hysteria, courtesy of the Suzanne Collins’ stimulating novel, is relentlessly imaginative and tension-filled in its big screen incarnation. ‘Catching Fire’ certainly has the characterization depth and the visual effects are stylistically thrilling and vibrant.
As avid fans of ‘The Hunger Games’ realize the seedy societal impact of these dastardly competitions (impoverished children-on-children slaughtering to entertain the privileged masses), Lawrence’s high-strung heroine serves as the designated source needed to identify the absurdity of the opportunistic ruling governmental state and their nihilistic status quo. Naturally, the themes involving oppression, rebellion and class struggles are so universal in the philosophical edginess presented in ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’.
District 12’s Katniss Everdeen, skilled survivalist and beloved victor of ‘The Hunger Games’, continues to be the ultimate thorn in the side of President Snow (Donald Sutherland). In fact, ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ picks up where the storyline left off. Katniss had just won the Hunger Games a mere few months ago along with her fellow District 12 minion and ‘pretend’ love interest, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson).
For existing reasons, as spelled out in the first installment, the calculating President Snow is not too thrilled with the celebratory Katniss. After all, she and Peeta represent hope and tenaciousness for the disillusioned citizens of the various deteriorating districts. Certainly, President Snow and his handlers cannot risk Katniss mobilizing the restless population that they currently control with an iron fist. Snow warns Katniss that her love for Peeta better be convincing and considered genuine to her adoring fans and that she demonstrate being a ‘team player’ with his administration or else.
In any event, Katniss and Peeta are engaged in a Victory Tour as the champion-caliber fictitious lovebirds whose sole purpose is to honor their fallen comrades (or Tributes) while acknowledging their own Hunger Games survival recognition. Katniss, although affectionate toward her Tribute-in-arms Peeta, really misses her true love in Gale (Liam Hemsworth). Additionally, the guilt that Katniss feels is immense, as she lives in the posh comforts of Victors’ Village with her intoxicated mentor, Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), as her surrounding community continues to perish in poverty and prosecution.
Still weary of an uprising in the districts that may be empowered by Katniss and her emerging popularity, Snow and new game master, Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), devise another 75th Hunger Games edition, this time exclusively featuring former champs. Thus, Katniss and Peeta (stepping in the place of the physically unfit Haymitch) are right back in the chaotic and cutthroat confines of Snow’s elaborate sinister sideshow of survival.
As one can imagine, the newly formed Hunger Games this time around will feature more competitive carnage drenched in ruthlessness and mayhem. Indeed, the stakes are higher and deadlier than ever. Katniss and Peeta find themselves up against the best of the best as they tackle an assortment of ominous wildlife, harsh weather conditions and, of course, the return of determined, blood-thirsty winning Tributes that know what it takes to excel under the madcap adversity of these notorious, vicious-minded games.
Among the combatants added in this masterful motley crew include the cynical yet capable Johanna Mason (Jena Malone), whose mouth seems deadlier than the weapons she utilises. Oldster Mags (Lynn Cohen) and the Hunger Games’ youngest champion in the history of the events in woefully cocky Finnick Odair (Sam Clafin) are part of the menacing mix. Also, a tandem of techno-experts in in Wiress and Beetee (Amanda Plummer and Jeffrey Wright) get to strut their dangerous stuff.
‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ is tellingly explosive and possesses an element of excitement, indignation and intelligence that is rarely a welcomed combination in pulsating popcorn pleasers. Screenwriters Simon Beaufoy and Michael deBruyn’s confection of colorful characters, outlandish action sequences and sensationalized storytelling gives ‘Catching Fire’ its blistering cadence. In particular, Lawrence’s piercing portrayal as the sporting ice princess filled with understated rage and resentment certainly gives her alter ego, Katniss, a distinctive vitality and vulnerability that is quite fixating.
The supporting cast, both newcomers and familiar faces, all contribute marvelously to the penetrating production. Specifically, Malone’s Johanna is a welcomed inclusion as the acid-tongued tart that means business. Although it should not be a surprise about veteran Oscar-winner Hoffman’s nifty turn his MC Heavensbee is favorably unctuous. ‘The Hunger Game’s returnees Harrelson, Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks and Stanley Tucci are instrumental in what they bring to the rollicking table in ‘Catching Fire’. However, Lawrence’s credibility as the curvaceous action hero Katniss Everdeen is vital because she is the heart of the havoc…the pulse of the pain and passion that exists in the fictional world of the authoritative Panem regime.
Jubilant, spellbinding and tactical, ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ is one of those acceptable moments where the majority of critics and moviegoers alike do not mind coming down with the sudden case of sequelitis.
NOTE: Focus of New York film critic Frank Ochieng is a member of: