November 24, 2013 by bck1402
Stars Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Sam Claflin, Jeffrey Wright, Amanda Plummer, Jena Malone with Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Donald Sutherland
Directed by Francis Lawrence
So here we are with the middle child of a trilogy, at least where the books are concerned. (If you’re unaware, book three is going to be split into two movies, a trend started with Harry Potter and The Deathly Hollows and continued with Twilight: Breaking Dawn. Let’s not get into it with The Hobbit that takes a rather slim book and breaks it into three movies.) The middle part of any trilogy is always a tricky beast, often picking up where the first part left off and setting up the last part. This would often mean a somewhat incomplete story with dangling plot lines and story points. Unless you’re The Godfather, then you squeeze a prequel and a sequel into one with no real plans for a third part except as an afterthought past its prime.
As with the nature of these movies these days, the audience is expected to have seen the previous movie and is all caught up when starting out with this second chapter. Why? Let’s see, I had a friend recently complain that Thor: The Dark World was an awful movie because he couldn’t figure out how Jane Foster and Thor knew each other before hand… because he only saw The Avengers but not the first Thor movie. And so, why these two would work with each other and somehow have this romantic relationship with utterly ridiculous within the context of the movie on its own. With The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, we’re starting with Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence, superb) dealing with life post Hunger Games and the fallout of her actions for much of the first half of the movie.
The first movie had its moral quandaries to play with and there isn’t much difference here, although the quandaries are a little different this time around.The political playground is much bigger and the germ of the idea of revolution sparked by the end of the first movie begins to spread here, something President Snow (Donald Sutherland) is acutely aware of. Katniss herself has become a symbol of rebellion among the downtrodden and a media sensation among the elite, enough to be something of an idol to the youngsters of the Capitol, as evidenced by Snow’s own daughter. The political power-play is intriguing if it is a little slow to get going at first. It’s often played out through the chessboard of the media whether it is through Ceasar Flickerman’s show or the machinations of new games-master, Plutarch Heavensbee (a shockingly normal Philip Seymour Hoffman) whispering away into the ear of President Snow, much like Iago. It is through these machinations that in celebration of the 75th Hunger Games, also called The Quarter Quell, the rules change and suddenly, it is the past survivors who are called to partake in the Games for a second time. Think of it as a All-Star edition of the Games. Of course, given the nature of the Games, none of the participants are happy about this, unlike other contestants of current reality shows getting a second chance at the pot of gold at the end of the competition.
Once the Games are back on, the pace of the movie changes and we get a slew of new characters comprised of past winners, most significantly, Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin, surprising), BeeTee (Jeffery Wright) and Johanna “Ax” Mason (Jena Malone, almost unrecognisable). Can it be said that the more normal someone looks, the more likely they are to be on the side of the angels? It’s not a hard and fast rule tho, but it does seem obvious. That’s not to take away anything from the immense work from the make-up and costume departments. This is not just for the main cast, or the supporting cast, but primarily for the residents of the Capitol and then the rest of the world too. All of it to show the disparity between the Districts, the haves and the have-nots. But in the Games, the disparity seems more primal this time around.
Taking over from Gary Ross, director, Francis Lawrence manages to layer in the subtleties of themes and context fairly well without making it too obvious. With most of the original cast on hand, it isn’t too difficult to draw decent performances, but in star Jennifer Lawrence, he’s got the best weapon in the dramatic arsenal. Lawrence shines bright and does more than just carry the movie. Even most of the senior stars seem to pale in comparison. Just that closing moment alone, after the last line and the focus is on her, and you see the emotions of the moment just racing across her face. That alone raises the bar so much on the acting stakes that you wish the movie didn’t end there. But it’s not just the one moment, it’s everything else, and it’s down to her co-stars to step up. Lawrence is truly remarkable here. She totally owns her character. Can’t way to see what else is coming in the next two movies.
The flow is fairly similar to the first movie, taking the moment to check out life in District 12 before moving on. Then there’s the victory tour, putting on the show for the masses and the bits with the training before heading into the Games. The stakes are higher and there’s more going on. Cast and crew are on top form here. At times, it may feel like a very extended episode of a solid serial, and at others, it feels more than a genuine movie experience. Strong performances help power the movie along, and the design work provide tons of eye-candy, with action beats decently peppered throughout. Still, it is more drama than anything with the promise of some major war moments in the upcoming instalments. Can you tell I’ve not read the books?