Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 26 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Violence and Action, some Frightening Images, Thematic Elements, a Suggestive Situation and Language
Directed by: Francis Lawrence
Written by: Simon Beaufoy & Michael Arndt
(based on the novel CATCHING FIRE by Suzanne Collins)
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Toby Jones, Willow Shields, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jena Malone, Amanda Plummer & Jeffrey Wright
I should preface this review with saying that I am not a fan of the first HUNGER GAMES. I found it to be bland, silly, and a total rip-off of the superior-in-every-way BATTLE ROYALE. It wasn’t a terrible movie, but it was far from a good or even serviceable one. This being said, my expectations for CATCHING FIRE were nil when it was first announced. I thought this series was going to become another TWILIGHT SAGA full of half-realized ideas, boring characters, and a squealing teenage girl fan base. There was something about the previews that suggested this would top the original though. Having now seen it, I would place CATCHING FIRE is in the same category as THOR 2. They’re both superior to their mediocre first installments and wind up being enjoyable in their own right.
Taking place shortly after the events of THE HUNGER GAMES, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark are both reeling from the horrific games they both participated in. They are also selling their fake romance for the cameras in order to keep themselves alive. With the menacing President Snow watching her every move, Katniss tries to show how “real” her love for Peeta is, but this is not enough. The 75th Annual Hunger Games is here and the rules have changed. Instead of new tributes being selected from each of the 12 Districts, the tributes will be previous champions of the Hunger Games. Katniss and Peeta find themselves in a new arena with all kinds of threats, including the hardened killers they are fighting against. Can they survive this new breed of game?
Jennifer Lawrence is great as Katniss Everdeen, a character that wound up being purely one-dimensional in the first installment. Josh Hutcherson is equally as good as Peeta, whose actual affection for Katniss is going unnoticed by her. As far as the other characters go, everybody else isn’t given as much time as I would have hoped. Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks reprise their roles and so does Donald Sutherland. A welcome new addition to the group is Philip Seymour Hoffman as the game maker (an awesome replacement for the position that wooden Wes Bentley filled in the predecessor). Jena Malone, Amanda Plummer, and Jeffrey Wright also show up as former victors of the Hunger Games.
The build up to the actual Hunger Games themselves is about as long as the first film’s (nearly 50 minutes or so). In this case, the build up is earned. We see how traumatized Katniss is and I thought this was an intelligent element to throw in this series. The Games had consequences and they are shown to the audience in creative ways. The slow, steady pace that shows the potential impending doom for the protagonists makes for an intense experience for the first third. Little details are thrown in about the competition that Katniss and Peeta will be facing off against and this had a lot of promise. The use of outside elements (dangerous creatures, contained disasters, and an arena with a very special layout) make for some very exciting sequences.
Not all is perfect though. It’s clear that the film was shying away from some of the payoff to keep the PG-13 rating. Seriously, what’s the point of having a character with sharpened fangs if you never show her use them? Some of the CGI is a bit iffy. The shoddily animated baboons are infinitely better than those poor excuses for dogs in the original film though. The government that runs the Hunger Games themselves is sloppily run and there are a few plot holes to be found. The ending is also loaded with plenty of bombshells dropped in the last 10 minutes that will leave fans eager for November 2014 to arrive with the MOCKINGJAY PART 1 (since every franchise seems willing to milk their movies for every possible cent).
In the end, THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE is a winner. It’s not fantastic or terrific, but it’s very good and plenty of fun. The tension exists far more here than in the sub-par original. The cast do well with what they’ve been given (in some cases, it’s not much) and the movie delivers on being a creative piece of Science Fiction. If you’re looking for an amazing movie based on intelligent Sci-Fi, then watch the far better ENDER’S GAME. If you dug the first HUNGER GAMES (which I didn’t like) or are willing to give this series one more chance, then THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE is a sequel that outdoes the original in every possible way. It’s far from amazing, but it’s very good. Recommended!