Synopsis: Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark become targets of the Capitol after their victory in the 74th Hunger Games sparks a rebellion in the Districts of Panem.
Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Lenny Kravitz, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Woody Harrelson, Jena Malone, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amanda Plummer, Lynn Cohen, Sam Claflin, Jeffrey Wright
Running Length: 146 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (9/10)
Review: I honestly expected there to be a slip-up in bringing the second part of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy to the big screen. After the whopper success of The Hunger Games in early 2012 (compounded by the fact that the film was quite good), tongues were wagging in anticipation of when the next film would arrive and a worldwide true love affair with down-to-earth star Jennifer Lawrence began.
Starting off 2012 with a huge box office hit and ending with another praise-worthy film (Silver Linings Playbook) along with a Best Actress Oscar for her efforts, Lawrence couldn’t have asked for a better year. Then 2013 rolls around and the starlet saw the release of another film which has critics crying Oscar (American Hustle) as well as The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, a sequel that’s in many ways superior to its predecessor.
Though I keep my reviews fairly spoiler-free, there’s no real way to discuss Catching Fire without giving away some aspects of the original so if you’ve yet to see it…you’ve been warned.
OK…are we ready to move forward? Good.
It’s a year after Katniss (Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island) defied the odds (and the authorities) and became the first joint victors of the gladiator-esque Hunger Games. Though they may have new housing and comforts that have kept their families nourished, both are still haunted by what they saw in the arena. The Hunger Games are presented as entertainment but really serve as a reminder of oppression by the wealthy and how inconsequential the poor are. Katniss and Peeta came from the lowliest district and survived together…giving hope to those that had none.
This causes great fear in the upper crust, mostly from villainous President Snow (a smirky Donald Sutherland, Backdraft) who plots with new Head Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master, using his greasy ginger puffiness to his advantage) to teach the two young winners a lesson…by making sure that the next Hunger Games is an all-star battle with players culled from past victors. Back into the area they all go and this time there can truly be only one winner.
Screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen and an Oscar winner for Slumdog Millionaire) brings out the best in Suzanne Collins novel, always reminding the audience of the stakes at play and the very real price for any kind of mistake. Characters feel more fleshed out with very little favorite faces getting short shrift of screen time. That leads to the film running nearly two and a half hours but the time seemed to fly by for me thanks to director Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend) keeping things at a good clip and the continued strong performances of the cast.
It would have been easy for Lawrence to simply show up and recreate the strong work from the original but instead she goes deeper than before, uncovering new layers of Katinss that even Collins wasn’t able to scratch. It’s a full-bodied performance that proves Lawrence is a formidable force that’s just getting started.
Maybe it’s because Lawrence flaunted her Oscar around the set (highly doubtful) but everyone else in the film seems to have stepped up their game as well. Hutcherson has less of a moon-pie face in this one, letting the actor not seem so ruled by his character’s obvious infatuation with Katniss. Woody Harrelson (Out of the Furnace), Stanley Tucci (The Company You Keep), and brief turns from Amanda Plummer (Joe Versus the Volcano) and Jeffrey Wright (Casino Royale) are rich with the kind of character shading that gives the film its subtle dexterity.
Special mention must be made yet again to Elizabeth Banks (Pitch Perfect, What to Expect When You’re Expecting) in the beefed up role of chaperone/advisor Effie Trinkett. The actress could quickly have been lost within her colorful make-up, zany wigs, and Gaga-edgy costume design but she’s smart enough to show the beating heart of the person underneath it all. And former child star Jenna Malone may have one of the best entrances of the last few years as the plausibly sinister former victor Johanna Mason. Malone is so good that she often steals Lawrence’s thunder later in the film.
With a year to wait until Part 1 of the final chapter of the series, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is that rare sequel that builds upon the solid foundation of the impressive original. There’s more to love here and a greater sense of risk kept alive by Beaufoy’s detailed script, Lawrence’s skilled handling of the material, and a bevy of creative performances led by undeniable star Lawrence.
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