The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Cast:
Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen
Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark
Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne
Sam Claflin as Finnick Odair
Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy
Lenny Kravitz as Cinna
Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman
Donald Sutherland as President Snow
Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee
Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket
Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman
Lynn Cohen as Mags
Jena Malone as Johanna Mason
Jeffrey Wright as Beetee
Amanda Plummer as Wiress
Toby Jones as Claudius Templesmith
Paula Malcomson as Katniss’ Mother
Willow Shields as Primrose Everdeen
Bruce Bundy as Octavia
Nelson Ascencio as Flavius
E. Roger Mitchell as Chaff
Bruno Gunn as Brutus
Maria Howell as Seeder
Alan Ritchson as Gloss

Directed by Francis Lawrence

Review:
Suzanne Collins’ trio of “Hunger Games” books created such a riveting tale of a possible future filled with poor people being oppressed by the government and the teen girl who became a symbol for the revolution, that it seemed like perfect fodder for a big budget franchise. Gary Ross’ original “The Hunger Games” brought this world to life, but it was a movie with problems, one of them being the omissions from the book that were important to the overall story. With “I Am Legend” director Francis Lawrence at the helm, they have a chance to improve upon that movie, since the characters have already been introduced, and they can jump right back into the story, one you’ll probably know very well if you’ve already read the books.

Nearly a year after winning the 74th Hunger Games, Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen and Josh Hutcherson’s Peeta are sent on a “Victory Tour” to the other districts, a bittersweet cross-country journey that has them seeing the sad state of Panem under President Snow’s rule but also inspiring citizens to fight back. Snow (Donald Sutherland) already sees the threat that Katniss could pose and he comes to her before the tour to warn her that she better make her love for Peeta convincing. He soon realizes that she needs to be eliminated so his new Gameskeeper Plutarch (Philip Seymour Hoffman) comes up with a way of rejuvenating the Hunger Games by bringing back former victors, including Katniss.

As expected for a movie centered around a love triangle, there’s a lot of kissing and hugging between everyone, but more importantly, the often emotional character interactions during the first hour help the viewer, especially those who haven’t read the books, appreciate the characters that much more. This also makes the stakes much higher when Katniss and Peeta have to return to the Hunger Games arena for a second year in a row. The bad guys are a lot more defined this time from Donald Sutherland’s President Snow to the equally menacing Plutarch–another great well-rounded character portrayal by Hoffman–and the sadistic Commander Thread.

One of the sequel’s big advantages is that it introduces new tributes from other districts, all victors of their games, all of whom immediately have far more personality than the competitors in the previous movie. This includes Jena Malone’s feisty Joanna Mason and “Nuts and Bolts,” played by Geoffrey Wright and Amanda Plummer, who are so funny to even consider as competitors in the Hunger Games (let alone “victors”) that they add a bit of much needed whimsy to what might otherwise be a grim affair.

The real standout is Sam Claflin’s Finnick, who is far more than the snarky smiling lothario he makes himself out to be, giving the actor the juiciest role he’s had a chance to play so far. It generally feels like Liam Hemsworth’s Gale once again gets the short shrift in terms of having interesting things to do although he has some nice scenes with Lawrence. It’s no surprise that Josh Hutcherson is good in this, as he makes Peeta far less wishy-washy than in the first movie.

The entire cast have generally grown into the skin of their characters with Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci and Elizabeth Banks really relishing the fun they can have with their respective roles, Banks going through so many wardrobe changes as Effie Trinket with each outfit and wig even more outrageous than the last. The teeth of Tucci’s Caesar Flickerman have gotten so white that they’re almost blinding, but a marvel to behold. Having such a strong cast allows for some better-than-usual dramatic acting, but there’s also quite a bit of overacting, and unfortunately a lot of that comes from Lawrence herself.

Much of the sequel’s success could easily be accredited to new writers Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt–both Oscar-winning writers, mind you–who remained a lot more faithful to Collins’ source material than the first movie. This even extends to the Quarter Quell, which could have been really tough to visualize. Lawrence and his team are able to bring the complicated arena to life using CG complete with poison fog and killer apes with all of it looking way better than readers might have imagined while reading the novel.

When the film ends on a cliffhanger teasing the next two-movie chapter “Mockingjay,” it’s somewhat frustrating since the movie is on such a roll up until that point, but the movie ends on such a high point that it’s an effective ending.

The Bottom Line:
A more faithful adaptation of stronger source material makes “Catching Fire” significantly better than the first movie. 2 hours and 15 minutes flies by fairly quickly, leaving you breathlessly waiting for the next chapter.

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