Monday, November 25, 2013

Review: The Hunger Games - Catching Fire

Despite earning an Academy Award nomination for 2010's Winter's Bone, Jennifer Lawrence was just your average run-of-the-mill young actress before taking on the role of Katniss Everdeen in the 2012 blockbuster The Hunger Games.  Since her powerhouse turn as the IT action star for young adults, Lawrence has shot to super-stardom, winning an Oscar last year for Silver Linings Playbook.  In her follow-up to that film, Lawrence finds herself back in Panem playing Katniss in the David Lawrence (no relation) helmed sequel Catching Fire.  The second of a three-part series, Catching Fire doesn't quite live up to the novelty of the first film but manages to entertain nonetheless despite a rather bloated runtime.

In Catching Fire we see the same set of familiar characters headlined by Katniss and Peeta (the forgetable Josh Hutcherson) who are forced to go cross-country in a victors tour following the duo's win in the 74th Hunger Games.  Advisor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), stylist Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) and publicist Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) help prep the supposed lovers to fake that they're into each other and impress the capital in the process.  Through a twist in the 75th Hunger Games rules, previous winners are thrown back into the fray for the "Quarter Quell" and Katniss and Peeta must once again try to outlast 22 other competitors in a free-for-all kill-fest.  Throughout the buildup to the event, we see a sense of rebellion and uprising during the stops on the Victory Tour.  It seems as if the people of Panem are finally fed up with the way the Capital is controlling the citizens of their world.

Lawrence the director takes over for Gary Ross (who directed the first film) and provides a sense of continuity in the visual theme of this film.  The Capital is once again emblazoned in bright loud colors and filled with obnoxious personalities.  The action throughout is well crafted and tense at times.  Lawrence the actress is right at home with her fierce portrayal of Katniss.  She shows a determination and commitment to her role that is hard to find in an actress of her age.  A cast of new characters are introduced as Career Tributes and fellow participants in the Games.  Jeffrey Wright, Sam Claflin and a feisty Jena Malone play some of these tributes and are welcome additions to the overall cast.  Philip Seymour Hoffman is introduced as new GameMaster Plutarch Heavensbee and seems a bit out of place in a film of this genre.  He plays along well though and does an adequate job with the few lines he's given.

I enjoyed this movie and thought Jennifer Lawrence once again stole the show as Katniss.  I just felt the movie was a bit too long and ended too abruptly (more of a fault of the book in general).  The effects were so-so (as in the first one) and once again Josh Hutcherson is completely wooden as Peeta.  Great performances by Harrelson, Donald Sutherland (President Snow)  and especially Stanley Tucci as the over-the-top-hilarious Caesar Flickerman help buoy this film to a 4 out of 5 JR rating.  It's definitely worth a watch on the big screen (apparently the arena footage was shot in IMAX although I didn't see it in that format).  I just don't see this making my Top 10 list at the end of the year giving all the other high-quality films we've seen in 2013.

Note:  It looks like Mockingjay is planned to be split into two films with the first coming out next year.  The final installment of the series supposedly focuses on the uprising against the capital and does not feature a formal Hunger Games event.  I'm hoping that this will make for a more original set of films and we'll see a fitting conclusion to the Suzanne Collins series of stories.


Doe said...

Booo! Francis Lawrence

Nate said...

So, you will rate Pacific Rim ahead of this for 2013. I am totally confused.