Friday, April 25, 2014

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Directed by Francis Lawrence.
2013. Rated PG-13, 146 minutes.

Katniss (Lawrence) and Peeta (Hutcherson) are the darlings of the twelve districts after winning the most recent Hunger Games in rather unconventional fashion. President Snow (Sutherland) is quite pissed about it. After all, it was their suddenly blooming love that forced the games to end in such an unorthodox fashion, leaving him and the Capitol looking a bit foolish. This wouldn't be quite so bad if his instincts didn't tell him, correctly, that their relationship is a fraud. He tells Katniss they better play nice for the cameras for the rest of their lives or heads will most definitely, and literally, roll. Those heads belong to her family and friends, of course. Since even that doesn't squash her defiant personality, and the people have made her a symbol of hope, President Snow changes the rules, putting her and Peeta into the next year's games. Their competition this time is made up of prior winners.

One of the things this movie does better than its predecessor is get to the point. That first flick took forever to actually get to the Hunger Games. I understand that in the first movie of a franchise, the setup typically does take longer than it does in sequels. However, in that first flick, it feels unnecessarily long. Like a dog dragging a broken leg, it limped along slowly while we watched Katniss is wardrobe, practicing, and being a talk show guest. Repeatedly. Thankfully, we spend much less time in talk show mode. Generally speaking, I love watching Stanley Tucci perform. In this series, as the host of said talk show, he's just an annoyance. I understand what is trying to be accomplished with this character. It's just not working for me.

Tucci aside, another plus for Catching Fire is the acting of its supporting cast. This more mature group gives us more interesting characters and better portrayals of them. The two standouts being Jeffrey Wright and Jena Malone. Malone gives us someone we're not sure how to take. Wright does what he normally does and disappears into his character. Another newcomer, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, is his usual excellent self as the Game Master. Among the returnees, Woody Harrelson and Donald Suther land are again very fun to watch. Surprisingy, so is Elizabeth Banks, once more in full drag-queen regalia.

Unfortunately, once we get to the games, it's the stretches between action where this movie, and the series as a whole, continues to fail. These are the times when Katniss and her allies plot the next move and get to know each other a little better. It should also be the time during which the tension is building until that next burst of excitement releases it. Instead, that tension dissipates as the scenes drag on, trying and failing, to establish emotional bonds between the characters. Part of this is due to Katniss herself. We know she cares about her friends and family. However, she comes across so coldly to everyone else that no one else's plight seems to resonate with her until it becomes an imminent part of her own survival. In other words, if she doesn't really care about them until the very moment her life depends on their ability, why should we?

Finally, where the first movie positions itself as social commentary, Catching Fire seems to lack any such aspirations. This is partly due to it being the second movie of what we know will be a quadrilogy. What it is trying to say may become more transparent after subsequent installments are released. No, I didn't read the books and please, do not explain it to me. Another reason is this movie's focus on being a "bigger" movie than its predecessor. It does more, but says less. Still, it is the doing more that makes this a more enjoyable movie than its predecessor. By breezing through the setup quicker, we get a more concise effort, even though it's actually a few minutes longer than the first film. We still hit some snags, but fans of the first should be pleased.


  1. I'm glad there's somebody else in the ship as me that felt like it wasn't all that amazing like everybody was saying it was. Not saying that it was all that bad either, it just felt like it was a lot more bloated and over-the-top than the previous installment, which is sort of a given, granted how most mainstream, blockbuster sequels turn out to be. Good review Dell.

    1. Yeah, I liked it but certainly didn't love it. I guess I understand all the teenage girls going ga-ga over it. The rest of us? Not sure what the big deal is.