Friday, December 20, 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Movie Review

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire does just about everything a studio wants from its sequels. It basically repeats the successful formula of The Hunger Games, but adds a new bevy of recognizable Hollywood faces. The one thing it mercifully resists is ramping up the action. The Hunger Games was an exercise in Gary Ross’s control and his successor Francis Lawrence follows in his footsteps, keeping the majority of the action within the centerpiece installment of the “games” themselves even while the stakes have been greatly increased.

Truly, the screenplay adaptation plays as if they took the scene by scene skeleton outline and updated everything for the story’s continuation. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is first seen hunting in the woods and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) comes to find her, just like the first film. There’s a reaping (selection of contestants) only this time the tributes, as they’re called, are selected from previous victors. Then, just like the first film, Katniss and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) go through preparation, sizing up the other tributes, T.V. interviews with Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci, the consummate professional who makes the most out of a performance he could have phoned in), and fashion fittings with Cinna (Lenny Kravitz). And Woody Harrelson is back drinking his way through the mentor Haymitch Abernathy. Hey, if it worked once, it will work again, right?

Adding credibility from the secondary character list are Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee, the new games master, and Jeffrey Wright, Amanda Plummer, and Jena Malone as the once victorious (and once again) tributes. Elizabeth Banks reprises as Effie Trinket, who is revealed to have slightly more depth than we were led to believe with her obsession with appearances and always looking and acting your best when the cameras are on.

But revolution is more in the air this time and there’s a sense that President Snow (Donald Sutherland) feels genuinely threatened. The consequences of stepping out of line are far greater now. There is more depth to nearly everything which makes it a bit more interesting in tone than the first film. Although it makes no sense that Snow would think it a good idea in terms of quelling the seeds of revolution to select tributes from past victors. The whole point was that they’d receive a lifetime of riches. If the rug is pulled from under you, that’s exactly when you’re going to fight back. When life is no longer predictably governed by the status quo, you have far less to lose. Certainly Snow should understand that and yet he takes action that should cement the start of revolution.

It’s overall a more satisfyingly enjoyable experience than I’d imagined because the stakes have been raised. We finally get to see that there are, in fact, consequences to slaughtering other human beings in an arena of live television only to have wealth lavished upon you for it. Peeta and Katniss both suffer nightmares and the other tributes all have their own bizarre quirks and idiosyncrasies that may be explained at least in part on their histories. Numerous logical inconsistencies aside, this is shaping up to be a fine set of films that are well-made, but sort of lacking in real emotional depth. I think there’s a lot more to be explored here thematically than the studio is willing to touch. These films would work much better as deeper and darker tales, but I guess they wouldn’t draw as many butts into the seats.

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