Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The (2013)

Director:  Francis Lawrence
Cast:  Jennifer LawrenceJosh HutchersonLiam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Stanley Tucci, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Plot:  Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark become targets of the Capitol after their victory in the 74th Hunger Games sparks a rebellion in the Districts of Panem.

Genre:  Action / Sci-Fi
Awards:  Nom. for 1 Golden Globe - Best Original Song.
Runtime:  146min
Rating:  PG13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some frightening images, thematic elements, a suggestive situation and language.

“Remember who the real enemy is.”

It’s getting exciting for this money-spinning franchise.  The sequel to The Hunger Games (2012) is a solid effort that, like any ‘middle’ installment of any trilogy, ends on a dramatic cliffhanger.  Can we have the next episode please?  No, we have to wait for November 2014.  And then November 2015 for the second part of the third feature. 

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire does well to sustain its narrative for almost 2.5 hours, balancing excellent action sequences with dramatic weight.  It takes some time for the film to be set up, but therein lies its exemplary focus on character development as stakes are raised with emotional consequences.

Jennifer Lawrence gives another outstanding performance as Katniss Everdeen, fully coming into her own, and bringing her character to another level of depth.  This is a Katniss who is angry and frustrated.  When she is asked to perform a special combat skill in front of the who’s who of the Capitol, she does something else – she sends a visual message in a cheeky yet undeniably serious way. 

The supporting cast with most of the actors reprising their roles from the first movie are uniformly excellent.  Everything seems to be setting up very nicely for the final installment.  When Francis Lawrence was previously announced as the director of the remaining films in the franchise, taking over Gary Ross, I personally had some doubts.  I wasn’t impressed with his first two features Constantine (2005) and I Am Legend (2007), so I had reservations. 

Now I have none.  His direction is confident, and with screenwriters like Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire, 2008; 127 Hours, 2010) and Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine, 2006; Toy Story 3, 2010) on board, it is very much assured that the adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ novel would be told with skill and flair.  The movie franchise is very much pre-sold already for me, despite not having read a single line from the books. 

When the first film was released, there were claims that Collins conceptually lifted the premise from Battle Royale (2000) which was itself adapted from a novel, with many long-drawn debates over the originality of her novel.  Catching Fire has now transcended those claims, at least that seems to be the consensus – it is now a dystopian science-fiction parable that works as a sociopolitical allegory. 

The movie still primarily works as an entertaining spectacle, but it is not without its thought-provoking moments, something that few Hollywood blockbusters achieve.  Catching Fire is not quite the perfect deal, but it is a real deal nonetheless.

Verdict:  Very much working as a 'middle' installment of the trilogy, this is nevertheless a solid follow-up that focuses on character and emotion, very often portraying them with depth and nuance.


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