REVIEW: 'Catching Fire' is step up for franchise
Well this was unexpected: “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” is a good movie.
Not an OK movie, like the first one, that seemed flat and somehow listless, even while tributes from 12 districts were slaughtering each other for the amusement of the masses. An actual good movie; having Jennifer Lawrence at the center of things helps immeasurably.
Yes, the film, based on the immensely popular Suzanne Collins novels for 'tweens, has plot holes and head-scratching motives galore. But it never forgets its target audience, and if the grown-ups have to raise an eyebrow every so often, so be it.
A switch in directors helps. Francis Lawrence takes over for Gary Ross, and immediately you realize that this somehow feels more like a big movie. Lawrence treats the film more like an event, and it shows.
“Catching Fire” picks up where “The Hunger Games” left off. In the games, young people compete in a reality show that is, in fact, a fight to the death. The last person standing wins.
It's an ill-disguised way for the fascist government, led by President Snow (Donald Sutherland), to keep its citizens oppressed. In “The Hunger Games,” Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence), the tribute from dirt-poor District 12, managed to win the games and engineer a way for her friend and fellow District 12 tribute Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) to also survive.
As Snow points out in a visit to Katniss' home early on, she is now a symbol of hope for many of the downtrodden. This won't do, so she and Peeta are sent on a winners' tour of all the districts, pretending to be in love. It's a disaster, touching off riots. Katniss' growing popularity is becoming a threat to the government, so Snow and new game designer Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) scheme to take her down one way or another.
This leads to a sort of Hunger Games: All-Star Edition, in which winners of previous games are forced to compete again. It seems like a pretty obvious way to get Katniss and Peeta back in the arena, and the set-up is the film's weakest segment.
But the competition introduces some welcome new additions, such as Jeffrey Wright and Amanda Plummer as a couple of high-I.Q. odd ducks, Jena Malone as a woman vividly unhappy to be called back and Sam Claflin as a handsome winner who has cashed in, in big ways.
Back from the first film are Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks and Stanley Tucci; the latter is especially good (again) as the effusive host of a talk show about the games. His blindingly white teeth and purple hair are not what make him ridiculous; his manner, somehow cynical and sycophantic, is.
Knowing the competitors a little better helps a lot. We have people to root for, and against, and never lose that nagging feeling that no one can be trusted (because, in fact, no one can).
Not everything will be resolved by the end of the film. Quite the opposite, actually.
Things are, however, established and reconfirmed. One is Lawrence's continued screen presence, which is considerable. Another is Francis Lawrence's ability to get his arms around so unwieldy a story. (He's signed on for the final two installments.)
“Catching Fire” is a great leap forward for the franchise. Seeing as it's all about hope and what it represents, here's hoping the next two are just as good, if not better.
Bill Goodykoontz of the Arizona Republic is the chief film critic for Gannett.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- DVD reviews: ‘The Judge,’ ‘Fury’ and ‘The Book of Life’
- Pittsburgh-set ‘Me and Earl’ big at Sundance, gets distribution deal
- ‘Let It Snow’ filming in Millvale
- IMAX ‘Game of Thrones’ coming to Waterfront theater
- Pittsburgh-shot ‘Southpaw’ gets July release
- Film review: ‘Me and Earl and the Dying Girl’ draws heartfelt laughs, tears