Posted by: ckckred | December 3, 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

catching-fire1

Audiences in search of a new teen series to fill in for Harry Potter have made The Hunger Games, based on the book by Suzanne Collins, become a big hit, scoring over $600 million at the box office and printing out millions of new copies of the novel.  I for one found the first movie to be somewhat unfocused; while The Hunger Games could have been a fierce satire, it felt too much like tween fodder, subduing the book’s more violent scenes in favor for a PG-13 rating.  It boasted some tense moments and great action, but the flawed logic weighed the movie down.  Catching Fire is an improvement over the last installment, but still has an uneven pace, with an overly melodramatic first act and a stronger, more confident second one.  While tonally imbalanced, Catching Fire is entertaining, but it’s hard not to feel that it could have been better.

Taking place immediately after the previous film, Catch Fire deals with the teenage angst of protagonist Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) as she struggles to maintain her false romance with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) after winning last year’s Hunger Games.  Her victory has greatly angered President Snow (Donald Sutherland), who sees that her win could create an uprising against the capital.  With consultation from the new game-maker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Snow attempts to kill off Katniss through the 75th Hunger Games, where past victors will now have to fight against each other.

The first hour or so focuses on Katniss’ grief from last year’s games as she mourns the pointless violence and loss she endured as well as hiding her love for her best friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth) while having to marry Peeta in order to keep up with appearances.  This section of the movie largely contrasts the poverty-stricken District 12, which looks like it came directly out of Soviet-era Russia, to the Capital, where urbanites dress in absurd and bizarre clothing that make Lady Gaga’s costumes seem normal in comparison.  The eccentric lives of the people is not too subtle satire at those who obsess over reality TV shows, but is well crafted and pointed (one scene reveals that the city’s inhabitants take a drink to make them puke so they can eat more).

The trouble with this section is that I found it uninteresting and rather dull.  Simon Beaufoy’s screenplay often calls for some tacky and stale dialogue from its actors, which can elicit some unintended laughs.  There isn’t as much charisma from the actors as the last picture.  While Philip Seymour Hoffman and Donald Sutherland are very strong in their roles as well as Woody Harrelson as Katniss’ drunk mentor Haymitch, Jennifer Lawrence lacks much of the bite she showed in The Hunger Games as well as in Winter’s Bone and Silver Linings Playbook.

But director Francis Lawrence kicks the movie into high gear once the actual games starts, giving the movie a much-needed feel of excitement and intensity it was missing.  The stakes have been clearly raised higher as obstacles and traps grow more and more dangerous, featuring tidal waves, poisonous fogs, and ravaging baboons, not to mention the character Finnick (Sam Claflin, who strangely reminded me of Willem Dafoe).  Lawrence wisely doesn’t utilize as much handheld shots as director Gary Ross did, making Catching Fire feel more polished up.

If Catching Fire consisted only of its second half, I would write a much stronger recommendation, but the opening hour brings the movie down, making the experience overall a mixed bag.  Still, in the world where Transformer movies rake in billions in the box office, it’s nice to see a movie with  creativity

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Responses

  1. Yes, good stuff. I similarly was underwhelmed with aspects of the movie, but I think when there’s more of the series to compare it with, I might find more to appreciate. I feel like the filmmakers did need to refocus the story towards Panem society and politics, but it did all seem so very gloomy in those middle stretches.

    • Thanks! The movie just took too many times to reinforce the comparisons between Panem and the districts. I would have like the story to have been more tightened.

  2. Good Review 😀
    It was a great film, really liked it a lot. Thought it was a fantastic improvement over the first, and I cannot wait for the next one, especially after that ending 😀

    • Thanks! I would agree it’s better than the last movie and the end was particularly well done.

  3. Interesting. I liked this one considerably more than you, and thought the first half equal to the second.

    But it’s always fun to read differing opinions. 🙂

    • Thanks for the comment. The first segment just seemed too long and wasn’t quite as good as the second half. I feel if the script had some more polishing, the movie would be better.

  4. I must say I thoroughly enjoyed this one, though I can see how people could have issues with it. I am really looking forward to the next one, and feel this one was a marked improvement over its predecessor.

    • Thanks for the comment. I agree it’s better than the first, but I would have liked the movie to be more consistent.

  5. Nice review mate. I really enjoyed this and thought it was a lot darker than the first one. I also think that if the film was more like the second half then it would essentially be a repeat of the first film (which I think it was anyway) so i think the slower first half was important.

    • Thanks! I just felt that the first half wasn’t very interesting and compelling, though as you said it is essential to the plot.

  6. As I mentioned on my review, there’s an awful lot of hunger before you get to the games, although I thought they handled that very well. Great read.

    • Thanks! The first hour or so felt overlong, but the second half was really well done.

  7. Good review. The first one still feels a bit better to me, but there were moments where I really did feel like this was more than just another Twilight clone. It’s its own kind of beast, and deserves to be seen by a lot of peeps.

    • Thanks! I think you put it well through the Twilight comparison. The movie didn’t work really well until the second hour.

  8. Can’t friggin’ wait to see this! Bummer about the first half not being up to par but overall it sounds like an improvement over the first one.

    • Thanks for the comment. I seem to be in the minority about the movie, but overall I thought it was stronger than the first. Hope you enjoy it.

  9. Well written review.

    But I must disagree with your view on J-Law’s performance as Katniss. I really think she hit it out of the park here.

    I agree that frivolous life-styles on display in the Capital were over-the-top.Like Mardi-Gras was every day for them. I supppose there was an underside to the Capital but we weren’t shown it – even in two films. If people are living their lives at parties – then someone else is do the preparations – the serving, as well as the cleaning up.

    I also thought that P.S.Hoffman wasn’t really strong in the role. Very effective yes…but I thought he was decidedly underplaying.

    Thanks for your perspectives. If we all agreed, then there’d be no point to reviews.

    • Thanks! I felt that Lawrence seemed kind of bored in the first hour, though she was much better in the second half. I’m in the minority though, and I really did like some scenes.

  10. I loved the first half even more because it had emotional depth in handling the problems with their system of government. That scene when she appeared at Rue’s district (you feature the photo) and looked out over the faces had me in…uh…well let’s just say the theater was really dusty.

    • Thanks for the comment. I just felt that the themes of the first half went on too long. I would have preferred if the movie had shortened the District 12 scenes and primarily focused on the hunger games.

  11. Great review here, CK. I saw this over the weekend and was pretty underwhelmed myself. It was nice to see action scenes that didn’t rely on shaky cam techniques, but in a lot of ways the film just felt like a re-hash of the original. I am curious to see how it plays out in the next film, however.

    • Thanks! I was glad there wasn’t much shakeycam but overall the film didn’t do much for me. I’m interested to see what the next film will do as well, the ending was very suspenseful.

  12. This movie does, like you said, have a certain level of creativity that you’ve gotta give it credit for. The first half of the film was definitely slower than the second, but it really made me understand the gravity of this controlled civilization and the need for revolt. I honestly have no complaints with this one.

    • The first half for me felt kind of slow and I wasn’t really interested in the relationship between Katniss and Gale. The second half was better, but the movie was still overly flawed. Glad you enjoyed it though.


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