Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Rating:

Come On Baby Light My Fire

Main Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth

Director: Francis Lawrence

I’m an unapologetic fan of the Hunger Games series of books by Suzanne Collins.  I wasn’t sure about a movie adaptation until they cast Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss.  At the time I had only seen her in Winter’s Bone and she was fabulous – I knew she would bring some weight to the lead in The Hunger Games.  And so she did, and continues to do so in the second installment, Catching Fire.

Before we go any further, I think it’s important to note that these movies are very serial.  If you haven’t seen The Hunger Games, you should do so before setting out for Catching Fire.  This review will contain spoilers for those of you who haven’t seen the first movie.  We pick up the story a little while after Katniss (Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) return from the games.  Both are scarred, with nightmares and PTSD following their experiences in the arena.  They live in the Victor’s Village, in nice houses and with plenty to eat, but little else has changed in District 12.  Katniss and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) continue to sneak outside the fences to hunt in order to feed his family.

As we enter the story, the annual Victor’s Tour is about to commence.  Katniss and Peeta are dressed up, given

Jennifer Lawrence

Jennifer Lawrence

speeches and expected to deliver them in all the districts, showing gratitude and, more importantly, serving as a reminder of the great power of the capital.  But this tour is not the usual.  People are angry and Katniss, after her rebellion during the games, has become a beacon of hope for a nation of desperate people.  There is rebellion afoot.  The danger she poses, albeit unintentionally, is not lost on President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and Catching Fire chronicles his desperate attempts to thwart any uprising with the help of new head game maker Plutarch (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

As is true in the books, the political tension in Panem is coming more to the forefront in Catching Fire.  It isn’t just about the games anymore and we see more of the authoritarian hand of the government as it tries to squash the will of the people.  The soldiers are menacing, cold and brutal.  The key performers are uniformly outstanding with only Josh Hutcherson as a minor weak link.  Lawrence gives Katniss both strength and vast vulnerability; Hemsworth gets more screen time as Gale discovers his calling as a revolutionary and Woody Harrelson gives Haymitch (the only past other past victor from District 12) both a new determination and the comic relief we

Josh Hutcherson by Gage Skidmore

Josh Hutcherson

expect and need from the character.  Donald Sutherland proves even more terrifying this time than last, as he shows how deadly serious he is about ending this potential threat to his rule, and Hoffman as Plutarch makes for a delightfully enigmatic, scheming aide to his cause.  Lenny Kravitz continues to impress as the stylist Cinna, as does Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket, the physical and emotional embodiment of the capital.  Hutcherson is hampered by playing a character that I don’t really care for.  His inner strength is dampened by too much whiny simpering and doughy fragility in the arena.  Hutcherson plays him faithfully, but I’m never going to be on Team Peeta.  New cast member Jenna Malone is also a standout as past victor Johanna.  And of course Stanley Tucci rocks as Caesar Flickerman.

One of the best aspects of these movies is the stunning visual artistry that goes into the arena.  It’s back this time

Liam_Hemsworth_by_Gage_Skidmore

Liam Hemsworth

around, but in a slightly abbreviated fashion as less time is spent there.  Yet there is no denying that it is both beautiful and terrible.  The rest of the film also looks fantastic – the dull squalor of District 12, the depressed and crumbling grandeur of the Victor’s Village, the frantic hope in the faces of the other districts and as always, the glorious, hideous excess in the capital.  The imaginings in the book are captured beautifully on the screen.

The only place the movie falls short, and this is to be expected, is in the full development of the peripheral characters.  Katniss and Peeta are very well done but we learn far less about the others in the arena than we do in the book.  I missed that richness of characterization, but it isn’t a fatal flaw in the film, it’s simply a byproduct of time limitations.  Catching Fire does end with a cliffhanger, but that is as it should be.  I do wish they hadn’t felt the need to split the final installment, Mockingjay, into two movies, I think that’s unnecessary.   But you can be sure that I will be there opening weekend to leap back into the world of Katniss, Panem and revolution.  4 out of 5 stars for Catching Fire and a strong recommendation for anyone who has seen the first film and/or read the books.

photos by Gage Skidmore

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