Review: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire


Francis Lawrence
Simon Beaufoy, Michael Arndt (as Michael deBruyn) (Novel: Suzanne Collins)
146 min.
Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Willow Shields, Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Amanda Plummer, Sam Claflin, Jena Malone, Lynn Cohen, Toby Jones, Jack Quaid, Taylor St. Clair, Alan Ritchson, Stephanie Leigh Schlund, Meta Golding, Megan Hayes, Stef Dawson, James Logan, E. Roger Mitchell, Bruno Gunn, Maria Howell, Elena Sanchez, John Casino, Marian Greene, Daniel Bernhardt
MPAA Rating
PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some frightening images, thematic elements, a suggestive situation and language

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Source Material

The second film in the incredibly successful Hunger Games franchise takes on a new, untested director and comes out as a fine middle chapter of what’s shaping up to be one of the great big screen adaptations. Catching Fire continues the story for Katniss Everdeen, the Girl on Fire.

Somewhere before Jennifer Lawrence became a huge, bankable star around the globe, there was concern that she wouldn’t be able to carry off the raven-haired protagonist of Suzanne Collins’ popular novel. She proved those critics wrong in the first film in the franchise, but in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, she explodes with a level of rich character detail that characterized legendary genre performances like Sigourney Weavers in Aliens.

The character is capably built on the strong backbone of her prior performance as Katniss, a self-reliant young woman from an impoverished district under the thumb of an oppressive government desirous of preserving their wealthy, elitist status quote rather than providing help, care and support to those who make them rich. Her open defiance of the Capital has set in motion a chain of events in poor districts around the nation of Panem that has led to rebellion and President Snow, a deliciously malicious Donald Sutherland, wants her quashed.

His master of games for the 75th Hunger Games has a plan. As Plutarch Heavensbee, Philip Seymour Hoffman, delivers a performance that isn’t so much effortless as it is expected. His motives are kept shrouded so that only readers of the book will know who’s side he’s on, but that playful malevolence encourages Snow to adopt special rules for the Quarter Quell, which require all of the victors from previous games, to be entered into a pool and put to the task of surviving against accomplished killers. Katniss and her media boyfriend Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) must once again descend into the maelstrom that is the arena and find a way to survive even though this time, one of them will have to die.

In the first film, it was the adults who were accomplished thespians tackling meaty, sometimes transparent characters. With older competitors now in the mix, a fresh set of actors enter the arena to give the film even more gravitas than the likes of Sutherland, Hoffman, Stanley Tucci, Woody Harrelson and Toby Jones could provide. Amanda Plummer and Jeffrey Wright are tributes from a district that specializes in technology, Lynn Cohen takes on the role of mentor to Sam Claflin’s Finnick Odair, and former child star Jena Malone goes no-nosense with her combative, effective killer Johanna Mason whose central performance will come in the next two films. There are a slew of other new faces in the arena, many trained killers but whose names are briefly mentioned and are even more briefly seen.

This is the kind of ensemble that rivals nearly anything seen in the blockbuster circles, each character infused with depth and purpose with little screen time to adjust. They also know how to effectively blend into the story while Lawrence takes command of the screen, never relinquishing her hold on the audience’s attention and, in her final scene of the film, showcasing how truly capable she is, conveying a series of emotions without the use of dialog.

Francis Lawrence isn’t a name many will be familiar with, having directed only a handful of previous films, none of which were particularly good (Constantine, I Am Legend and Water for Elephants). However, with a script as literate as this, based on such a brilliant novel, it’s hard to make many mistakes. Perhaps Lawrence is growing as a filmmaker. We’ll have to see his post-Hunger Games works in three or four years to know for sure. For now, he has reached his pinnacle and with the loss of the terrific Gary Ross, it’s good to know the series is in safe hands.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire continues the franchise’s attacks on wealth and excess being employed as a distraction to keep those in power from falling from it. They see the workforce as a teeming cesspool of miscreants and troublemakers and to preserve the status quo, they must destroy the symbols of victory and rebellion before the seeds take root and can no longer be weeded out. The observant will identify with these ideas as a condemnation of America’s growing wealth inequality where the wealthiest men and women attempt to placate the public with reality shows and faux news reports while hiding the greater struggles of the downtrodden and keep the rebellion out of the press. By minimizing the impact of things that harm them most, the rich can instill their own beliefs and concepts and make it seem like it’s in the public’s best interest even if it’s far from that.

Will we ever get to the point where we succumb to an open rebellion quashed by a militarily and financially-dominant government? It’s unlikely, but the general thesis of the film is still potent and resonant and as the young of this country enter the workforce and see the comparisons between Collins’ world of Panem and that of the United States, hopefully they will see Katniss as a role-model. That is precisely why a franchise like The Hunger Games carries so much importance. It is a film that warns of a future of subservience and regression for the sake of the wealthy and well-guarded at the expense of the very people who make up their financially-indentured workforce.

Oscar Prospects
Probables: Original Song
Potentials: Production Design, Costume Design, Makeup and Hairstyling, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing
Review Written
December 18, 2013

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