by Terrance Mc Arthur
Special coupon for Dinuba Platinum Theatre at the end of this review.
The film version of Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a lot like The Hunger Games, only better.
That’s hard to believe. So many second installments of movie franchises suffer from “hammock syndrome,” where nothing important happens, because it’s all a set-up for the third and final installment. Second films are looked upon with lowered expectations, but Catching Fire delivers on the potential of the series. Yes, it uses the same structure (explore the horrible conditions of the Districts that are harvested for the Tributes [players] that will fight in the Hunger Games, discover the wonders of the Capitol as Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) trains for the Games, and the mega-violent Games) as the first film, but so did the book. There is some disturbing violence that gives it a PG-13 rating, but what can you expect when the story is a cross between Survivor, The Running Man, and The Most Dangerous Game? The effects of violence upon society and upon those involved in the violence is a theme of Suzanne Collins’ trilogy of books (which will become a tetrology of films when Mockingjay is released in two parts).
Katniss and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) survived the Games because Katniss pretended to be in love with Peeta, when she really loved Gale (Liam Hemsworth), her hunting partner from back home, and by forcing President Snow (Donald Sutherland) into changing the rules. Her actions have triggered resistance and revolt in the Districts, turning the Victory Tour into a series of confrontations between the oppressed people and the helmeted security forces. To remove Katniss as a symbol of rebellion, Snow and Plutarch (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the new Hunger Game designer, concoct a Games pitting former champions against each other, in hopes that Katniss will kill and become unsympathetic to the masses. The Games are rigged, but in ways Snow does not suspect.
Director Francis Lawrence (Water for Elephants, I Am Legend) has turned the screenplay by Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt (billed as Michael deBruyn) into a sociopolitical movie for action fans. He is aided by a fantastic cast that makes the most of every situation.
Jennifer Lawrence, fresh from her Oscar win for Silver Linings Playbook, delivers far more than the Kristen-Stewart-level heroine of most Young-Adult-aimed films. Hutcherson has the I-know-she’s-using-me-but I-love-her-anyway act down very well, and manages to get some good twists in on his own. Woody Harrelson has traveled a long way from goofy/dumb days on “Cheers” to a specialist in the jaded and dissolute, slurring his way through the part of Haymitch, former champion and mentor to Katniss and Peeta. Sam Claflin as Finnick is the new eye-candy for teenage girls, a sociopath with winning ways and high self-esteem.
Sutherland’s Snow is an authority figure that still has moments of that M*A*S*H-era smile surfacing, but it’s used for purposes of evil. Hoffman oozes conspiratorial I’m-on-your-side venom to Snow and to Katniss, maneuvering more than one piece on the board.
Stanley Tucci is a bundle of impossibly-bright teeth, overly-tanned skin, and the master-of-ceremonies menace of Richard Dawson dipped in 30-weight oil. Elizabeth Banks is still outrageously dressed as the Capitol’s Tribute-wrangler, blithely oblivious to the squalid conditions of the rest of the country.
I loved Lenny Kravits as the gently-subversive costume designer, Janna Malone as a contestant with an attitude, Amanda Plummer and Jeffrey Wright as super-bright Tributes with few connections to the real world, and Lynn Cohen as a senior citizen in a game for killers.
I may see this movie again, and I’ll probably buy it on video. The odds are in their favor.
Check out our review of the book Catching Fire.
Catching Fire is currently playing at Dinuba Platinum Theatres 6, also in 3D. Showtimes can be found on their website. Platinum Theaters Dinuba 6 now proudly presents digital quality films in 2-D and 3-D with 5.1 Dolby digital surround sound to maximize your movie experience.