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The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Review

24 Nov

hunger_games_fire3-620x412The Hunger Games: Catching Fire may be trying to provide sociopolitical commentary; it may be trying to delineate the oppressive nature of an institution hungry for power; it may be trying to send the same message that the mockingjay sends to the people of Panem. It may be attempting to convey all of that, but at heart, it’s a sci fi film, and a ridiculously entertaining one at that.

The visuals are stunning here; whereas the first film sometimes tumbled into the CGI trap, Lawrence (the director Francis Lawrence, that is) and the rest of the crew have a knack for reveling in the sights and sounds without depending on it to propel the movie forward. It’s also a virtue that he abandons the shaky-cam style of Gary Ross, instead electing to linger on peoples’ faces and the action that occurs; in fact, I’d venture to say that this type of shooting helps throw me into the film more so than the shaky-cam.

Of course, those visuals are–surprising for this day and age in teenage film spectacles–secondary to the characters. Anchoring the cast is the gorgeous, talented Jennifer Lawrence (this girl is going places), conveying realistic, heart-wrenching emotions and giving life to sometimes shaky dialogue. She brilliantly portrays the internal struggle over her feelings about Peeta, and she keeps it from descending into the bowels of cliche. Some eye roll-worthy moments still exist, but the main, simple message still stands: this is a woman that may not want to lead a rebellion, but she’ll do anything to save her family.

It isn’t just her, though! The rest of the cast is stellar, starting with Donald Sutherland and Philip Seymour Hoffman, two well respected actors that I love watching, exchanging menacing one-liners without coming across as cliche. On the other side of things, the film does a great job reflecting the scope of dissent; it extends not only to the poor District 12, but throughout the land and even to the poster children of the Capitol. More depth is given to characters like Stanley Tucci’s bombastic Caesar Flickerman, Lenny Kravitz’s steady Cinna, and Elizabeth Banks’s glamorous Effie Trinket; we start to see the effects of the Quarter Quell decision written into their faces, and it’s great work all around. Woody Harrelson’s great as Haymitch, as always. As for the newcomers, they also convey those signs of rebellion very nicely; Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), Finnick (Sam Claflin), and Johanna (Jena Malone) are all integrated smoothly and quickly, and it’s a joy to watch them work.

One of the virtues of a mid-series film (although “Mockingjay” will be split into two parts, as required by the Hollywood Organization of I Love Money) is the ability to forgo backstory and lead into a final chapter. As merely a film of this classification, Catching Fire already succeeds; yet, it transcends simple Hollywood fodder and, in its stellar first half, allows us to see into the mind of Katniss Everdeen–the grade is brought down a few notches because the Games itself is a bit repetitive, although the new concept is very cool. Still, what sets this apart from, say, the Twilight series is the fact this it isn’t afraid to simultaneously convey true despair and true motivation. While the aforementioned series elects to hide behind unreality, this film is honest in its portrayal; it manages to entertain with unreality, but also continually closes its walls in on our characters so that the ending doesn’t feel very hopeful. It’s rushed, but it’s true to the book. Anyway, that’s the point; when your world is crashing down around your shoulders and all hope is seemingly lost, fortunes can change pretty damn fast. It’s all an odds game.

GRADE: B+

Credit to Lionsgate Entertainment and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire for all pictures. I own nothing.

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