THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE
By Gary Murray
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth
Written by Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt
Directed by Francis Lawrence
Running time 146 min
MPAA Rating PG-13
Selig Film Rating FULL PRICE
The Hunger Games is a phenomenon. The series of young adult books have sold millions and the first flick scored major box office in 2012. The second part of the saga is The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.
The film starts a year after the original film. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) are back in District 12, victors from the 74th Hunger Games. But, they are estranged. Katniss has fallen for Gale (Liam Hemsworth) a guy who works in the mines. They still struggle for food, even though Katniss is loaded from winning the competition.
She and Peeta have to go on a Victory Tour through all of the districts. Katniss begins to notice that there are rumors of revolution within the districts. The Capitol ignores what is going on outside their realm. But the President Snow (Donald Sutherland) sees the writing on the wall and wants to subdue the revolution even before it can gain traction.
Snow tells Katniss that she and Peeta must convince the other districts that the two winners are still in love. It is the Romeo and Juliet narrative that she must sell to the masses. On this journey, she is given the three fingered sign of revolution over and over again. Katniss has become the personification of fighting back and everyone sees her as the savior.
It is announced that the 75th Hunger Games is now The Quarter Quell, a competition of champions. Past winners from the 12 Districts must be chosen for a battle to the death. It is designed for one specific reason, to kill Katniss in front of an audience. She is warned by Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) that they will face the best, killers of killers.
The film finally gets to the battle that is the 75th Hunger Games. Katniss and Peeta bond together with a few others in a pact that every contestant knows will eventually have to break in order to win. They face poisonous gas, fierce simians and walls of water in the arena as elements of danger. With each cannon burst, another contestant has become a part of the afterlife.
Jennifer Lawrence won the Oscar last year for Silver Lining Playbook but this is the role that she will be more remembered. She seems much more comfortable with the character and has found a way to be tender while being tougher than nails. When they put her in amazing gowns, she transforms into one of the most beautiful young women on the planet. When she is hunting game in the back woods, she is still one of the most beautiful women on the planet.
The acting of Josh Hutcherson is not up to the level of Jennifer Lawrence. Time and time again, he looks like a lost little kid who is just not up to the thespian task. Some will argue that that is an element of the character but it just does not work.
The secondary characters are all great. Woody Harrelson always brings a manic charm to every role he attempts and here he is in top form. As a former winner, he knows exactly what those in the Capital expect from their Hunger Game winners and is sick of the status quo. Stanley Tucci is as his smarmy best as Caesar, the TV host of the competition and Elizabeth Banks is stylishly dimwitted as Effie. And of course, there is the impressive Donald Sutherland as the personification of all that is wrong with the Capital and its system.
Director Francis Lawrence takes on a Herculean task in directing The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. There are giant expectations from a very large fan base that he must quell in the journey to the Quarter Quell. He must take a complicated tale and move it along at such a pace that the mostly young audience does not get bored in the process. For the most part, he does a workman job. He is not the stylish director that Gary Ross was on the first outing. It is much more about getting it on screen than setting a cinematic tone.
The biggest problem is that the film just ends. Much like the second Matrix film and the second Star Wars flick The Empire Strikes Back, this film comes to a screeching halt. It stops just at the moment where the audience wants it to go on. It is definitely a cliff hanger ending much like it is in the novel. It is an unsatisfying experience.
This film will break the 100 million dollar mark, no matter what anyone says. The last book with be split up into two more films because Hollywood has decided to be like Twilight and Harry Potter and milk the audience out of each and every dime it can by stretching each franchise film to an unimaginable length. It is a part of Hollywood that shows how greedy the industry can be and how little regard they have for the paying customer.