PG) The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Running Time: 146 Minutes
3 stars out of 4.
Jennifer Lawrence has had been having a very successful year. Just after awards season, where she won almost every Best Actress prize for her incredible performance as Tiffany Maxwell in Silver Linings Playbook, she returns in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, playing Katniss Everdeen, the character that put her on the map. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is the much anticipated sequel to 2012’s The Hunger Games, based on the very successful young adult novel by Suzanne Collins. The Hunger Games was released in March of 2012, to great reviews, and a huge opening weekend($155 Million to be exact), and at a time when studios tend to release Oscar type films, Lionsgate has decided to release the second film in the blockbuster franchise, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Expectations are high, and many have wondered if new Director Francis Lawrence will give a much needed revamp to the series, and “fix” many of the technical and story driven problems from The Hunger Games. Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, and most of the original cast from the first film, reprises their respective roles, in what is one of the best films of the year, and is a major improvement on every standpoint from the already very good first film. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is the best moviegoing experience that I have had this year.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire stars right after the first film. Katniss Everdeen, once again played by Jennifer Lawrence, and Peeta Melark played by Josh Hutcherson, have returned back to District 12 after winning the 74th Hunger Games, and thus becoming the Victors. They are both living in Victors Village. Katniss and Peeta are going on a Victory Tour, to all 12 Districts, to pay tribute to the fallen tributes. Meanwhile, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) wants Katniss Everdeen dead, as the people of all 12 Districts look to her as a beacon of social change, and that she gives those people hope. Along with new games maker, Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), they decide that for the 75th Hunger Games, the tributes are to be reaped on the existing pool of victors, which would put Katniss back into the Hunger Games.
Everything about this film, is an improvement over the first film (which I loved). All of the crew from the first film was replaced, and this made for a much better film. Starting with new director Francis Lawrence who is known for directing I am Legend, and Water For Elephants, he brings a new and refreshing feel to this film and makes this feel like a real movie, and not just a silly adaptation of a popular young adult novel. The cinematography is also a huge improvement, as their is NO SHAKY CAM. The cameras are mounted stably, and especially in the tropical arena scenes, it is beautifully filmed. The screenplay written by Oscar Winners, Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3, Little Miss Sunshine), and Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) is nomination worthy, as it gives you insight as to what the real intentions of President Snow are, and why people look to Katniss as leader for social change. Unlike the first film, nothing feels rushed. The setup towards the games is nearly 90 minutes, and this helps the audience to easily process exactly what is going on in this very complex world. Also, unlike the first film (If you haven’t read the books), the film is not predictable, and when there are plot twists and turns you do not see them coming. The screenwriters, make you for care and understand the motivations of the characters, and for most of the secondary characters, learn about there personalities. The performances were great in the first film, and they continue to be in this film too. Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence, makes for a great and believable Katniss Everdeen, and Josh Hutcherson is also very good, and Liam Hemsworth is good in a brief but effective role. The supporting cast is excellent, Stanley Tucci is very funny as talk show host Caesear Flickerman, as is Elizabeth Banks once again as Effie Trinket. The new characters are excellent. Sam Claflin is very good as Finick Odair, as is Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee. But, the standout among the new characters for me is, Jenna Malone as Johanna Mason, she adds depth to what otherwise may be perceived as a shallow character. She is funny, and believable in her short amount of screen time, but when she is on screen, you can’t take you eyes off of her.
Going into the film, I had very high expectations, because despite its flaws, I loved the first film, and the trailers made this film look just as good, if not better. The visual effects in the film are great, another big improvement over the first film. Especially, during the actual Hunger Games, there is a scene that involves monkey like creatures, that look very realistic and very cool. But, the first effect still looks a bit fake, but it is still much better than in the first film. As a stand alone film, this is great, because things are explained in the film, that give you insight as too what happened in the last film, so you can fill in the blanks. This films works on almost every level.
The budget of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, is nearly double the budget of the first film, mostly because of the business the first film did at the box office. The original Hunger Games film, had a dark and gritty feeling to it, and for that film and plot it worked very well. This film feels much bigger, and more blockbuster/mainstream, and for this much more complex and intricate plot it works, although I still haven’t decided if I prefer the dark and gritty feel of the first film, or the bigger and more mainstream feel of this film.
Jennifer Lawrence will be back on screen next month, where she re-teams with Bradley Cooper and director David O. Russel, for American Hustle, this time in a supporting role, Lawrence is already generating Supporting Actress Oscar buzz, for her turn as Con Artists Christian Bale’s wife. Between, The Hunger Games franchise, the X-Men Franchise, Winter’s Bone, and Silver Linings Playbook, Jennifer Lawrence has great range with all of her roles, and deserves all of her success.