Tuesday, April 01, 2014

"The Hunger Games: Catching Fire": two-paragraph review

The Hunger Games trilogy continues in "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is back, fresh from her victory in the 74th Hunger Games. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) is unhappy that Katniss has become a symbol of revolt as well as a rallying point for the oppressed, sedition-minded citizens of the various districts of the country of Panem. Snow threatens Katniss's family and friends, demanding that Katniss reinvent herself as a woman in love with her co-victor, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), implicitly denying her role as "The Mockingjay," i.e., the symbol of rebellion. Katniss and Peeta are thrust back into the 75th Hunger Games, the so-called "Quarter Quell," whose contestants, called "tributes," are reaped from the roll of the previous victors. Katniss is warned by Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) that these contestants are all deadlier and more ruthless than the previous batch—plus they're all angry about being forced into the gladiatorial event after being fooled into thinking that their status as victors had made them immune from entering the Hunger Games again. Haymitch advises Katniss to think about forming alliances. Katniss's fashion designer, Cinna (Lenny Kravitz, crafts yet another subversive dress for his best girl: a mockingjay outfit that publicly confirms Katniss's symbolic significance, but inadvertently causes Cinna to pay a heavy price. The Games begin; Katniss makes an alliance with Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin) and has to solve the riddle of this new battleground, which seems to be designed as a morbid sort of clock. Katniss discovers, over the course of the contest, that the stakes are much higher than she initially reckoned.

"Catching Fire" was a long movie, like its predecessor, but I found it to be an improvement. The direction was superior; the emotions were more intense, and character motivations were clearer. I once again found myself thinking that poor Stanley Tucci was underused (see my review of the first movie for more on Stanley Tucci and his awesomeness), but I enjoyed him every time he appeared on screen. Liam Hemsworth, as Katniss's friend-maybe-boyfriend Gale, got more screen time this time, and he made it count. As I mentioned earlier, the emotional intensity of this movie had been ratcheted up significantly higher: the filmmakers did a fine job of showing us why we should hate the government of Panem, and why it so deserved to fall. This also felt like a deeper film, despite the fact that some of the major story elements were essentially repeats of the previous story: "Catching Fire" dealt more directly with the Orwellian nature of Panem's dystopia, and featured enough friction between and among the main characters to keep newbies guessing. The acting was top-flight, the action was grittier, and the story was more complex. Katniss's tearful, heartfelt speech to the bereaved citizens of District 11 put a lump in my throat: the speech's tone was sad, but it contained a universe of bitterness and frustration about the massive injustice of sending children out to slaughter each other. The brutal execution of the old man, which happened immediately after Katniss's speech, served its purpose: it got me fighting mad at District 1, the district that has it all. "Catching Fire" was good enough that I watched it twice during my brief rental period. It's a definite improvement over the first installment in the series, and it gives me hope that the final two films (which, I imagine, contain the last performance we'll ever see of Philip Seymour Hoffman) will be similarly superior.


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