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Catching Fire

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

What She said:

She

Fear not!  Our reluctant heroine Katniss Everdeen is back, and she’s trying harder than ever to save herself, her family, and the people of District 12.  If you haven’t yet gotten on board with The Hunger Games phenomena then shame on you.  The books are great—well, at least the first two are—and they’re super easy to read.  You can knock them off in a week and will be no worse for the wear.  Plus, Katniss, while certainly not perfect, serves as a relatively positive role model for women—physically and emotionally strong, and indirectly relatable to teenagers. 

In the first Hunger Games, Katniss had the unfortunate honor of serving as tribute to complete in a “to the death”-style competition between teenagers meant to send a message from the government to the people of the 12 districts.  That message is “comply or we will kill you.”  In fact, these games are held every year just to reinforce the fact that big government is in charge.  Katniss shines as an unlikely winner in her first Hunger Games, and a little lovestory spawns between her and the male tribute from District 12, Peeta Mellark.  Katniss and Peeta manage to break the system, by both surviving, when there is typically only one.

Catching Fire

So here we are, a year later, and President Snow is still p’d off about what went down.  Katniss and Peeta are reveled as heroes, and unrest is starting to build up.  The Prez cannot stand for this, and so he and the new gamemaster decide that with the 75th Hunger Games, they’re going to switch things up a little.  Why not have the quell only include past survivors from each district?  In other words, let’s guarantee that Katniss will be thrown back into the games and hopefully eliminate her once and for all.  It’s an easy way to “knock her off” without having to worry about the ramifications of an outward and public execution.  So, Katniss and Peeta, still putting on the image of a couple in love, while actually being as distant as two people can possibly be, are once again forced to go back to the Games, with the promise that only one person will survive and the threat of having to go up against fellow all-stars.

This is all a terrifying notion for Katniss, who doesn’t want to be the apple of anyone’s eye.  She just wants to disappear and live her life, hopefully with Gale, BUT, that is not to be, and so she must play her cards and maneuver her way through the Hunger Games for a second time.  Of course, Haymitch is back to help, and unlikely friendships and partnerships begin to form.  We’re also treated to a bit of a surprise and cliffhanger ending, although, if you’ve read the books like so many people, then it won’t really be a surprise at all.

Catching Fire

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire has a lot of story to tell in two and a half hours, and so things move along at a consistent and somewhat swift pace.  We don’t get hung up on any one character or scenario for too long.  What I didn’t like is that, unlike in the book, we’re unable to get to know some of the other tributes as well as I would have wanted.  It’s just not possible to give them the screen time and backstory that the book was able to afford.  The first chunk of the story takes place in the deeply sad District 12, where Katniss is from.  I found this to be the most boring part of the movie.  While I think it was important to show this piece, as we need to be introduced to the unrest that will come to dominate front and center in the third and fourth movies, it was not exactly as thrilling or action-packed as the time in the Games.

This movie once again benefits from strong performances from Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, Josh Hutcherson as Peeta, Woody Harrelson as Haymitch, Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket, and chilling Donald Sutherland as President Snow.  Stanley Tucci is also phenomenal as Caeser Flickerman, truly as over-the-top as one character can get.  Looking at his teeth was like glimpsing as the sun—I was seeing spots afterwards.  Liam Hemsworth is also back as Gale.  He’s ok, although I cringe every single time he calls Katniss “Catnip.”  There’s just something about it that doesn’t seem natural coming from him.  We’re also introduced to some new characters.  Philip Seymour Hoffman steps in as Plutarch Heavensbee, the new Gamemaster, Jena Malone plays returning tribute Johanna Mason, and Sam Claflin plays returning tribute Finnick Odair.  There have been some murmers about Claflin being a poor selection for the role of a character who is supposed to be super beefy and charismatic—think Greek god—and I have to say that there is some credence to this.  As much mass as Claflin was able to put on, he’s still somewhat puny compared to what I had expected.  I’ll categorize him as “passable.” 

Special effects in the film are amazing, which is to be expected as I can imagine this movie had quite the budget to play with.  It’s all-around a solid flick.  I see additional potential with this series that I don’t think will ever be reached, but that’s because to do so you’d have to turn it into a 7-part mini-series.  I’ll leave that to the BBC.  Like the first film, Catching Fire is very straightforward.  It just tells the story and leaves it at that.  As such, the movie is enjoyable to watch, but nothing uber-spectacular or groundbreaking.  I look forward to seeing what they do with the third and fourth movies, as they will be breaking up the third book into two parts.  Honestly, I thought the third book was the most boring and least enjoyable, and so I’m hoping they can improve upon it.  Otherwise, I’ll always come back to wishing they had split the second book up into two movies instead.  But only time will tell.  In the meantime, I’ll categorize Catching Fire as a good movie; not the best ever, but solid nonetheless.

Thumbs up.

Catching Fire

What He said:

He

For the first time in…well forever, Katniss Everdeen’s life isn’t so bad. She (Jennifer Lawrence) managed to survive the 74th Hunger Games – which set her and her family up for life – and also managed to do it while saving fellow District 12 tribute Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson).

It doesn’t last forever though. You see, she broke the rules when she refused to kill Peeta. The Hunger Games are only meant to have one winner. When she and Peeta threatened to commit suicide rather than kill one another, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) was backed into a corner. The people of the Capitol fell hook, line, and sinker for their lovebirds act and the President feared a revolt, so he was forced to comply with her wishes.  President Snow is very unhappy with Katniss’ act of defiance, because he fears it will act as a motivator for other members of the 12 Districts. He’s right too. For the first time in 75 years, the public has started to revolt against their cruel leaders from the Capitol. Though she did not intend it, Katniss sparked a revolution.

Catching Fire

Katniss is completely oblivious to this, but quickly finds out as she and Peeta begin their “victory tour”. It is tradition for the winner of the previous year’s games to visit all of the districts and act as a liaison for the Capitol. After being forced to fight to the death, the Capitol is kind enough to bring you into their inner circle and force you to act as a spokesman. Katniss, of course, hates this, but is forced to comply because Snow threatens to kill her family if she doesn’t sell her love-struck act with Peeta to the rest of the districts. The President hopes that this will result in the residents of the districts ceasing their rebellious activities.

It actually has the opposite effect. When Katniss and Peeta begin their victory tour, the members of the other districts show support for her action in the games.   They begin to fight back against the cruelty of the Capitol, which results in more repercussions. The Capitol begins cracking down. They tighten provisions even more and even punishing defiant citizens in public. Some are whipped at the center of town. Others are killed on sight.

Even worse, President Snow announces – at the suggestion of new Head Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) – that Katniss and Peeta will be returning to the Hunger Games. This year is the 75th anniversary of the games and every 25 years the Capitol comes up with some kind of stipulation. This year, two tributes from each district are chosen, but from previous winners of the games. Katniss is the only female from District 12 to win, so she’s an automatic. Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) is actually chosen, but in accordance with the rules, when a volunteer steps forward, there is no argument. Not wanting Katniss to be alone in the arena, Peeta volunteers himself. The both of them are about to reenter the games.
Last year’s games were in a dense forest. This year’s games are in a tropical setting. Soon after the games begin, Katniss and Peeta align themselves with Finnick Odair (Sam Clafin). Wherever Finnick goes, he is joined by his fellow District 4 tribute, Mags. Mags (Lynn Cohen) is something of an adopted mother for Finnick. She served as his mentor during his first stint in the games and the two have been close since. Finnick is a stud. He’s good looking, athletic, charming, and doesn’t hesitate to kill when he has to. They are also eventually joined by District 3 tributes Wiress (Amanda Plummer) and Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), as well as District 7 tribute Johanna Mason (Jenna Malone). Wiress and Beetee are not the most physically imposing people, but are extremely smart. Johanna is tough as nails. She’s nuts too. She seems to hate Katniss, but for whatever reasons chooses to align herself with the group.

The group faces off against other tributes and threats within the arena, of which there are plenty. The tributes from Districts 1 and 2 are always a threat. They are the lapdogs of the Capitol. They always align themselves with one another and are actually bred for the games. They train their tributes from the time they’re old enough to walk. If that isn’t bad enough, Katniss and company spend the rest of their time dodging all kinds of creatures and hostile environments within the arena.

The thing that impresses me most about this series is how good they are. I think there is a tendency by some to assume that a series based on a series of books geared towards young adults – especially one geared towards young women – has the potential to be sappy not have a broad appeal. Truthfully, I don’t care one bit that I’m watching something that has a teenaged girl for a hero. The execution is just so well done that I don’t care. It’s compelling and entertaining, not something you laugh at (like Twilight).

Catching Fire

Speaking of well-done, I have to mention Jennifer Lawrence’s portrayal as Katniss. I just think she’s awesome. She’s such a talented young actress. She brings the character to life and makes her very relatable. You really feel for what the character is going through and I don’t know if that would be possible without the caliber performance Lawrence brings to the table. She is everything Katniss needs to be. She’s sympathetic, angry, scared, damaged, and defiant. She doesn’t want the responsibility of being a leader, but when the shit hits the fan, Katniss takes charge.  She’s not the typical bad-ass either. She’s not the kind of person who will best her competition in a physical contest, but she’s got attitude, and put a bow and arrow in her hand and nobody can stop her.

The movie is loaded with a bunch of other great performances too. Donald Sutherland brings President Snow to life. I hated him in the books, but the movie fails without a viable bad guy, and Sutherland makes me hate Snow more than ever. He’s one evil SOB. Speaking of which, the guy who played Commander Thread (Patrick St. Esprit) was a real bastard. Small role, but a memorable one.

Elizabeth Banks and Woody Harrelson are perfectly cast as Effie and Haymitch. They are the characters personified. Effie is so detestable the first time you meet her. She’s one of the weirdo pawns of the Capitol, but you really begin to sympathize and even like her the more you get to know her. Haymitch is such a massive screw up, and quite mean to Katniss at times, but he really does care her deep down. He knows what she is going through, as a veteran of the games himself. You could say this about all the past participant of the games, but Haymitch is like a veteran of war. He’s tortured by what he went through and what he has to go through each and every time he mentors new tributes. He’s an ass hole, but you can understand why, and he means well deep down.

Jenna Malone’s Johanna Mason is probably the only other participant you could say that about. She is an angry, bitter, and a downright mean person, but you completely understand why. You’d act that way too if you went through what she did. Johanna is not in the first movie and Malone is easily the most memorable new character in the film. Her portrayal of Johanna is exactly what I wanted to see. She was fantastic.

There are so many good performances in the movie, but I don’t the time to talk about them all. I will just point out I thought Jeffrey Wright and Amanda Plummer were great as Beetee and Wiress, and Stanley Tucci is once again brilliant as Caesar Flickerman. Caesar is pretty much the face of the disgusting event that is the Hunger Games. He’s a pretty funny character too though. He’s sleazy and hilarious all at the same time.

The action and effects are top-notch. I personally feel there are a lot of bad effects out there right now. I don’t know why or how, but CGI has gotten really bad, so when I see good effects, I appreciate it.  The bad effects also seem to go hand-in-hand with anti-climactic action too. There are a lot of action movies that are big, bloated, and quite frankly boring. They defeat the purpose of why they were made. Instead of entertaining, they just bore you with these over-blown and simply fake looking sequences. I appreciate that this franchise has succeeded in both of these aspects of filmmaking.

Rating: Thumbs up.

This movie review was given the He said, She said seal of approval on November 26, 2013.

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