Dec 5, 2013

Quick Reviews: 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'

Katniss: The Mockingjay Girl on Fire Who Freezes on Camera
When I reviewed the first Hunger Games movie last year, I called it an 'above average adaptation of a book that is extremely difficult to adapt.' Above average is pretty much the meanest thing I've ever said about a movie that stars Jennifer Lawrence, so it was a pretty
big deal. In truth, it is a good movie (I gave it a B+), and it gave me hope for the next movie, when things start lighting up. Catching Fire (the second in the soon to be four film franchise) picks up relatively soon after the first ends, with Katniss still dealing with the 74th Games. She tries to return to normalcy, but the murders she both witnessed and carried out weigh heavily on her, and her in-game romance with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) is causing complications with both Peeta and Gale, who, despite having the name of a sweet lady, is actually a tall, lesser Hemsworth

Poor little Rue
Before she can readjust to life back in District 12, however, she's whisked back into the limelight, onto a Victory Tour, and ultimately (tiny, tiny spoiler) back in the Games. It's there that she has to face her own feelings about the Games, her family, the men in her lives, and Panem in general. Katniss has to learn to trust people, eat her pride, and actually stand up for something.

Once again, there's more in this movie that works than doesn't. While the time the characters spend in the arena is exciting (and much more so in this movie), what's really interesting is the time outside of it, and this film understands that. The scenes in the beginning of the film are great, especially a few moments in the town square and an incredibly moving scene that revolves around Katniss's friendship with Rue (which didn't end well). The Rue moments in the first movie was largely successful, so it's just smart that the memory of her is (coal) mined for a lot of emotion on several occasions.

Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) and Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) get more to do, and are excellent (sometimes between dialogue Banks looks a little blank-faced, but I'll give her the benefit of the doubt that it is a character choice and not bad acting). Josh Hutcherson was a little wibbly-wobbly in the first movie, but he's much better here - there's some personality on screen, which is necessary if he's a serious contender for 'film love interest.' Since his character is going to be much more complicated in the next films, it's good to see hints that Hutcherson can pull it off. Obviously, Jennifer Lawrence is fantastic, and the movie gives her many more opportunities to be confused and agitated - the part is actually written for more of a Kristen Stewart-type (you know, a bad actress), so it's great to see what an Oscar winner can do with it. She makes it clear that, whatever may be happening on her face, there's a lot going on in her head as well. While the first half of the movie has a lot of moments to ponder heavy issues, there's little time to catch your breath once all the characters are in the arena. Director Francis Lawrence shoots action scenes much better than his predecessor, and the budget is clearly higher here (they made freaking killer baboons!), and it all looks pretty good. Also,while the 'bad tributes' in the arena are pretty one-note and menacing (we get it, you're all bad-asses), there is some nice shading to many of the protagonists.

Did someone order
some personality?
In terms of peripheral characters, Jeffrey Wright is fantastic as Beetee and Philip Seymour Hoffman is predictably good as Putarch Havensbee.  Sam Claflin still seems like a weird choice for the amphibious Finnick Odair (on the smarm/charm scale, he's a little too firmly in smarm territory), but Jena Malone is pretty inspired as Johanna Mason. When she was announced as the prickly, powerful brunette, I didn't really see it - I still have Saved!-era Jena Malone stuck in my head. However, she is freaking awesome, and she helps to sell the (purposefully?) confusing conclusion of the film. With Katniss whimpering about one thing or another throughout the movie, it's nice to see a female lead who's totally in control (if a bit unhinged). Plus, she gets to drop a few f-bombs (freaking out the Tooch) and drop trou in an elevator.

Not everything works in this movie. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) is still cartoonishly evil, and the addition of his granddaughter as a character is completely unnecessary and dumbs downs the movie. All in all, the movie, like its predecessor, treats the audience like idiots, but in theory this movie is for children, so maybe 'dumb' is just built irrevocably into its DNA. Still, when I was leaving the theater after this movie, I heard one woman say that it was 'a significant improvement on the first movie.'  Even given its problems, I have to agree.

Grade: 22 out of 24 Tributes

Be sure to check out the review of the
other Hemsworth behemoth: Thor: The Dark World
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