Friday, November 22, 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Movie Review

Jennifer Lawrence & Josh Hutcherson (r) in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Fire in the House!

If you thought killing teenagers was tough; just wait till you see what The Hunger Games: Catching Fire has up its sleeve. Francis Lawrence picks up where Gary Ross left off, and delivers a rousing, darker sequel that's sure to satisfy fans of The Hunger Games Trilogy, while keeping guys like me entertained for 146 minutes. Force fields, poisonous fog and psycho baboons add to the list of pitfalls set before the 'Beacon of hope for the rebellion,' and superb casting wraps it up in one nice, little package... a package that's sure to produce big numbers at the box office.

Rotten Tomatoes Plot: THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE begins as Katniss Everdeen has returned home safe after winning the 74th Annual Hunger Games along with fellow tribute Peeta Mellark. Winning means that they must turn around and leave their family and close friends, embarking on a "Victor's Tour" of the districts. Along the way Katniss senses that a rebellion is simmering, but the Capitol is still very much in control as President Snow prepares the 75th Annual Hunger Games (The Quarter Quell) - a competition that could change Panem forever.

What’s Best: There's no denying the chemistry that exists between the primary characters; and the sequel tries (successfully) to keep that status quo. Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson are a year older; yet a lot more seasoned. It also helps that Peeta isn't so helpless this time around. Even the romance is thankfully dialed down a notch or two, save for the District 12 lovebirds' "show of affection," including a fake pregnancy and wedding engagement.

Stanley Tucci is once again terrific as games host Caesar Flickerman. Everything about him is bigger and brighter... especially his teethWoody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks return as well, bickering like an old married couple (to the delight of my screening audience.) There are also two strong additions to the mix - Jena Malone and Philip Seymour Hoffman. I expect Hoffman to be great, which he is; but Malone steals the show as a no-nonsense Victor who isn't afraid to "bare all" when necessary.

What’s Not: I enjoyed the banter and relative light-heartedness (at least, right up to all those killings) of The Hunger Games; so it was a bit disappointing to see that replaced with somber victory tours that closer resemble funeral services. There's also the massive case of déjà vu that dominates the second half of this film. Sure there are subtle differences here and there (more teamwork, adults instead of kids) but it's basically the same story as before... with slightly less drama.

Best Line: As you can probably imagine, Catching Fire's darker tone provides little room for comic relief; although it's almost impossible to keep a lid on Harrelson's Haymitch. When Katniss & Peeta join Haymitch for breakfast, the latter wastes no time in observing, 'Brr... You two have a lot of warming up to do.' Unintentional humor exists too, such as the following advice offered to Katniss at a party, '(Take this.) It makes you sick, so you can try everything.' Nice to see that gluttony is still alive and well in Panem.

Overall: Tucci's Caesar took the words right out of my mouth, 'I love her (Katniss.) The girl on fire is so cheeky.' That she is, and then some. Lawrence hinted at greatness in the first Hunger Games; but she looks perfectly at ease in Catching Fire, despite the lion's share of pressure. Her character is a wonderful role model for young women everywhere... attractive without false pretense, strong, protective and decisive.

As far as sequels go, Catching Fire works on almost every level. Would I have liked to see something more original? Sure I would, but why mess with a known commodity? The second Hunger Games adds enough spice and interesting characters to make it worthwhile for almost everyone.