By Benjamin Lane
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. (2013). Run Time: 146 mins. MPAA: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, some frightening images, thematic elements, a suggestive situation and language). Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Woody Harrelson, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Written by Simon Beaufoy, Michael Ardnt, and Suzanne Collins. Directed by Francis Lawrence.
The Hunger Games smashed its way onto the screen early last year, garnering favorable reviews from critics, movie goers, and fans of the breathtakingly magnificent novels by Suzanne Collins alike. A year and a half later, the inevitable Catching Fire squeezes its way into the middle of a terrific season of Oscar caliber movies. Just with Thor: The Dark World, it was odd to see a movie like this being released in November, but hey, who cares? I went in having seen and really enjoyed the first film, and having read and absolutely loved the novel. Thankfully, newly appointed director Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend) delivers an enthralling sequel that is better than its predecessor in every way imaginable.
Katniss Everdeen is something of a revelation right now, becoming a sort of fictional protagonist reaching Harry Potter’s level of popularity. Sure, you can whine about Jennifer Lawrence being too old for the part, but nobody does anymore. She’s a knockout. She is one of the best up and coming actresses out there for sure. I loved her in Winter’s Bone, which became her first nomination for an Academy Award, and I thought she was phenomenal in the first entry in this franchise. Here she is fresh off her Oscar win for David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook, one of my favorite films of last year, and with that outlandish performance she proves she is indeed versatile as she succumbs to the quietness and disturbing characteristics of Everdeen. I’m just waiting for David O. Russell’s next film in a couple weeks, American Hustle, for which she’s already earned a nomination at the Golden Globes. I love Jennifer Lawrence. She hits all the right notes. Supporting Lawrence is Josh Hutcherson, reprising his role, and giving it new life. I thought he was one of the flaws of the first movie. I didn’t feel his feelings toward Katniss or the games. Here, he steps it up, giving a very good performance that eliminates hard feelings toward his performance in the first film. Also reprising their roles are Woody Harrelson, giving some great work; Elizabeth Banks, always entertaining and spot on as the admirably quirky Effie; Liam Hemsworth, not having too much to do, but doing it quite well; Phillip Seymour Hoffman, being his awesome self; and Stanley Tucci, who is so on fire that every line he speaks deserves audible laughs.
So, the cast remains great, but what of the direction? Gary Ross is no longer directing this franchise, which to some, is a good thing. To me, it is a very good thing. Don’t get me wrong, I like Gary Ross. Seabiscuit, Big, Pleasantville; all good movies. But, his over-dependency on shaky cam in the first film was just too much to handle. Thankfully, Francis Lawrence does a bang up job, eliminating nearly all traces of shaky cam. The script is faithful to the novel by Suzanne Collins, which is tremendously political in the best way possible. This movie allows the viewer to delve deep into the backdrop of the baddies. We get a look of why they do the things they do, even if we know it’s wrong. We understand them. It’s a good thing to break away from the “always follow the hero no matter what” trend in storytelling. Sometimes we need to see the opposing side. We do here, and it’s riveting.
FINAL THOUGHTS: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a perfect example of a sequel that is better than it’s predecessor, even if the first installment isn’t a bad movie. This is an engrossing film from start to finish, always intriguing, always there to offer insight, and never afraid to back down. This is popcorn entertainment with a purpose. One that makes you think. One that makes you care. It‘s spectacular in every possible way.