Suzanne L., Here…
Everyone can understand that the second movie in any series can be the problematic middle child of a franchise. They tend to suffer between the spellbinding beginning and the satisfying conclusion. However, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire rises above the usual awkward bridge label with excellent performances and a script that remains faithful to the book to make it a movie that could almost stand on its own.
On the eve of the victory tour for winning the Hunger Games, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is a girl caught in the middle of competing issues. Her confused feelings for Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and Gale (Liam Hemsworth), trying to move on from the games while still being dragged into the performances and appearances that are expected from the victorious tributes, and the movement that was sparked in her unconventional victory make her life even more difficult. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) is determined to see her pay for figuring out a way to defy Panem, and Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) struggles to make her understand that winning to does not mean that her duty as a tribute is not done.
Jennifer Lawrence convincingly portrays a young woman who really only wants to save her own skin and those of her loved ones. Even as every person around her begins to see the larger picture – the possibility of bringing down the power of The Capitol, Katniss’s acts of defiance never serve a larger purpose, but every decision and action more firmly requires her to become the reluctant revolutionary.
When Katniss, Peeta, and Haymitch find themselves dragged back into another round of gruesome competition, new characters and an even more diabolical arena make this version of the games more suspenseful. In the previous movie, we only really feel protective of the District 12 competitors and Rue, but in these games we meet characters, who having survived previous games find themselves in the ring again, are as broken and angry as they should be. Jena Malone, as the irritable Johanna, is an amazingly aggressive, axe-wielding instigator, ranting against The Capitol at every turn. Amanda Plummer plays her character Wiress as a more intelligent version of Pulp Fiction’s Honey Bunny who went around the final bend. These characters aptly illustrate just how unfair their situation is.
This movie seems to have greatly benefitted from the increased budget. Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) and Michael Arndt’s (Toy Story 3) script keeps the pace up with few cuts to the actual story and creates a rhythm that makes the 146 minutes riveting. The cinematography and scope of the filming is larger, helping viewers to feel more apprehensive throughout the tributes’ time in the arena. There is much violence in this movie, but none of it is gratuitous. Though it lacks the gore to keep it clean enough for the necessary PG-13 rating, the hits and injuries do not seem like silly pratfalls.
The acting shows some growth that we must see in key characters. As Effie, Elizabeth Banks transforms from an annoying over-painted piece of fluff to a member of Team Katniss whose emotion shows through the layers of color. Stanley Tucci seems to up the level of antics of Caesar and may be one of the few actors who could play that crazy role and make it seem right. Philip Seymour Hoffman as the new game maker keeps you guessing about his true intentions. Pulling in even more established actors, director Francis Lawrence was able to increase the emotional output of Catching Fire while not allowing them to outshine some of the younger actors.
Suzanne Collins wrote this series with a message and a purpose in mind, and Catching Fire goes farther in expressing that message than the last movie. Many of the characters have important statements about oppression and defiance, but they are spoken without feeling like we are being force fed the point. Our heroine Katniss’s reticence to accept these messages makes them even more important and fresh.
Catching Fire is a movie worthy of viewing, outstanding from the first installment with a storyline and purpose that can keep the attention of young and old. It has a rhythm and builds you to the inevitable end that’s not really an end – Katniss wounded and confronted with the next step of a revolution she is not sure she wants to be a part of. I went into this movie with some apprehension. Though I enjoyed the first movie of the series, it was more for the sake of the book it was based on. I enjoyed this second installment as a movie on its own. I give it 4 ½ stars, and I have hope that the third will be equally satisfying.