The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Movie Review

Hunger Games Catching Fire-20130930-118

Fact-I didn’t see The Hunger Games last year until after it had been in theaters for 2 weeks.  Film-Addict wasn’t up and running yet and slowly but surely I was in the process of losing my job.   There was no urgency for me to run and catch it with the crazy crowds that had read the books that the films are based on.   Once I saw it, I left very impressed and moved by what I saw.  It was the first film I reviewed for my site.  The signature touch behind these films lies in the moral compass spinning inside the story. A young woman doing whatever it takes to keep her family safe and keep her world(District 12) in check.     Allow me to throw a hypothetical at the crowd still deciding if they should continue reading this.

Imagine if you were placed into an arena where you had to not only survive but kill several people close to your age and in the same desperate situation.  Imagine if this wasn’t your choice and if you refused, your little sister or brother would go in your place.   Think Darwin’s Natural Selection with a more sinister vibe.

The best thing I can say about the sequel to the Hunger Games, Catching Fire is that it lives up to the high hopes I had walking into it and when I left, I only wanted more of it and right away.  Furthermore, here are 12(staying with the heroine’s district) thoughts I took away from this film and that you should consider when picking a film this weekend.

1.  Jennifer Lawrence’s star power and versatility.   If there is one thing that powers these films, it’s Lawrence, the two time Oscar nominee and owner of a Best Actress Oscar.  She is so convincing at Katniss Everdeen, our heroine, that you forget you are watching an actress and you get sucked into this horrible yet honorable predicament.  There’s a sizzling confidence to the way she tackles this role that Twilight fans can only wish Kristen Stewart owned an ounce of.   Lawrence is the heart and soul of the franchise and makes it tick.

2. A tip of the cap to director Francis Lawrence.  A veteran action director(the underrated Constantine and I Am Legend), Lawrence took over for Gary Ross after the first film and deftly puts his stamp on this film.  His work here reminds me of the Will Smith science fiction film listed earlier but in this particular film Lawrence shows more free will in the storytelling process.   With Legend, he created this post apocalyptic world built around Smith’s lone survivor.   The best parts of those films were the depravity on display and the soulfulness of his protagonist’s fight.   He portrays the same thing here with Katniss, only in a heightened environment and ideal spectacle.  He proves that he is right at home in big budget action films with a pulse.

3. Woody Harrelson is an actor to admire and appreciate at the moment.   The comic actor who served drinks on Cheers has come a long way in the past 6 years and his roles in 2013 will bring that all to bear for the movie world.  Harrelson’s work as the mentor and voice inside Katniss’ head says more about wisdom than it does about action and that lends the film a gravity it desires.  The actor is in a comfort zone while taking the most unpredictable jobs but here he is so smooth and effortlessly authoritative that you rarely think of the parts he once played.

4. The special effects are solid and lend a futuristic flair to the story.   When blockbusters are done right, the effects don’t overwhelm the story but give the eyes plenty of candy to enjoy with the pathos.  That is the case with Catching Fire.  You can tell there is a bigger budget at work so the effects are given a boost.  During the action scenes, you can only guess which is real and which is computer generated but they lend a hand to the tale instead of taking control away from the actors.

5.  I am not sure who Sam Claflin is or what he has done but his role here as Finnick is very well played and will only evolve further as the franchise moves forward.  When you first see him, the perception of him sits in one spot but changes by the time you reach the end and that is a credit to the unpredictable flavor of his performance.

6. The rest of the cast is aces.  Elizabeth Banks deserves credit for her role as Effie Trinket.   What looked like a gimmick in the first part of The Hunger Games has fully evolved into a multi-faceted role that blends unfortunate, a wise knowledge of the times and a hilarious vibe whenever she is around.   I think of her as the ultimate assistant to the chaos.  Banks doesn’t just disappear into makeup.  She makes it her own.  Stanley Tucci spends some time on the same street as Banks in taking a hammy looking scenery chewing role and making it engaging, funny and well rounded.   Playing the game show host Caesar Flickerman, Tucci hides the acknowledgement of his role in the Games with a ridiculous laugh that never gets old.   With so many characters in this series, it’s what they don’t say with their mouth but what they hide in their eyes.   Lenny Kravitz lends the role of designer Cinna a cool that can’t be taught in any acting school.  A character you want to see more of.  Jena Malone offers up a different take to her fans that have come to expect a certain personality in her roles.  Her character is downright naughty and has a mischievous vibe.

7. Co-star Willow Shields is right on with her statement from our interview on Monday.  This film appeals to all ages.   Teenagers, young adults, middle aged folks and the senior crowd.   While the action can be relentless and the suspense intense at times, the story grounds it all and keeps you following these characters.   The whole family can appreciate this movie that doesn’t overload on blood but instead keeps the emphasis on story.

8.  Josh Hutcherson climbs out of his puppy pajamas from the first film and gets a lot more to do in the sequel.   His Peeta is in an unfortunate situation.  He earned the love of Katniss in the first film but finds himself wondering if it was grown or manufactured.    You don’t quite know where his character is heading but you want to follow the knight along into the deadly games.

9.  I still have a problem buying Liam Hemsworth in any film so he provides me with the only dilemma here and keeps this film from being perfect.  The younger brother of Chris, Liam oozes a masculinity that doesn’t ring true with his character.  The first two films haven’t given him much more than a handful of scenes and while they don’t require much, Hemsworth hasn’t impressed me much with his portrayal of a man who will play a bigger role in the last 2 films.   He just doesn’t convince me here, but that’s my take of him in all his roles.

10. The screenplay, which Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt adapted from Suzanne Collins’ book, is very well laid out and leaves the audience hanging on a tasty cliff as the credits roll.  At first glance, that can be taken as a cheat but when you think about it the execution here fits in perfectly with the franchise’s direction.   At the end of Catching Fire is where the match is lit and the rest of the story blasts into full power.  When you think of the title of this chapter, it fits perfectly.  If you have been waiting for the turning point, the end of this film presents it and the writing is crisp and supports the forward moving tale.

11.  Philip Seymour Hoffman is what I expected him to be.  A fine addition to an already superb cast.  His character carries an aura of mystery that keeps you guessing until the very end.   Donald Sutherland is his usual strong self and that’s no surprise.  Jeffrey Wright’s small role is effective and adds another silver bullet to this wildly crafty actor’s resume.  These guys are accomplished pros.

12.  What’s most impressive about the overall production of this sequel?  The fast pace and the way 146 minutes moves like a cheetah.   There isn’t a single moment in this film where you get bored or look at your watch begging for time travel.   Catching Fire takes off quick and wastes little time moving forward.  A hybrid of an action film and drama, this sequel qualifies as one of the most thought provoking blockbusters I have seen in a while.   It delivers the action and romance you come to expect, but has a poignancy to its proceedings that elevates it.   And there’s also the wicked sharp talent called Jennifer Lawrence.

I urge you to see The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.  It’s a fast paced, well acted and poignant look at the future we all hope we never face but can at least be entertained by this Thanksgiving.   If my 12 thoughts don’t persuade you to see the film, they at least provide you with an idea of what to expect.  One of the best things about writing a review is I get to unfold my take in more detail.  I hope this helped.  I will be seeing this again and buying the third book to read because I can’t possibly wait 2 years to get my resolution.

There’s my biggest form of an endorsement.  Being a busy job seeker, family man and avid writer, I don’t find time to read many books these days.  This film’s brilliant execution puts me in a bookstore really quick needing to get the next chapter of Collins’ tale.

Thanks for reading and see you all next time,

Dan L. Buffa

@buffa82 on Twitter for feedback and responses.

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