Film Dystopia

Hunger Games follow-up doesn't catch fire, but Jennifer Lawrence sizzles

Hunger Games follow-up doesn't catch fire, but Lawrence sizzles

Josh Hutcherson and Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
As usual, there's not a lot for Peeta or Katniss to smile about in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Photo by Murray Close/Lionsgate
Josh Hutcherson, Elizabeth Banks and Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Rebellion is in the air throughout Catching Fire. Photo by Murray Close/Lionsgate
Philip Seymour Hoffman and Woody Harrelson in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Actors both new and old to the series make Catching Fire a success Photo by Murray Close/Lionsgate
Donald Sutherland in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Donald Sutherland is utterly malevolent as President Snow. Photo by Murray Close/Lionsgate
Josh Hutcherson and Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Josh Hutcherson, Elizabeth Banks and Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Philip Seymour Hoffman and Woody Harrelson in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Donald Sutherland in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

When The Hunger Games came out in March 2012, it’s fair to say there were modest expectations for the film. Star Jennifer Lawrence, who already had one Oscar nomination under her belt, gave the film some critical cachet, but that’s not usually what brings in the bucks.

Although the filmmakers and studio hoped the popularity of the book would boost its box office, its release date early in the year showed they were hedging their bets. A hefty $408 million later, its success likely helped propel Lawrence to an Oscar win for her role in Silver Linings Playbook and made expectations for the sequel, Catching Fire, sky high.

 Lawrence has proved herself capable of enormous magnetism since her breakthrough in Winter’s Bone, and her reprisal of Katniss is no different.

The second part of the trilogy (or, as it will be for the movies, a quadrilogy), finds Katniss (Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) still reeling from their “win” in the first film. Now separated from the rest of their district in the desolate Victor’s Village, both are dealing with the repercussions of Katniss embellishing her affection for Peeta in order to help them both survive.

That includes running afoul of President Snow (Donald Sutherland), who makes clear that he won’t take Katniss’ insolence lying down.

With new gamesmaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Snow devises a way to exact revenge: the 75th edition of the Hunger Games will not select new tributes but rather choose its players from the existing pool of former winners.

There’s a lot going on in Catching Fire, and new director Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend) and writers Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt do their best to keep everything flowing well. Lip service must be paid to Katniss’ friendship/relationship with Gale (Liam Hemsworth). And helpers like Effie (Elizabeth Banks), Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) must all get their individual moments in the sun.

Plus, new characters, including former victors Finnick (Sam Claflin) and Johanna (Jena Malone), must be given proper introductions.

And that’s before you even get to the film’s main event, the next edition of the Hunger Games. The film is roughly split in two between the build-up to the games and the games themselves, which is a blessing and a curse. There is drama to be had in everything Katniss and Peeta must deal with prior to the main event, but it’s nothing compared to what they have to endure in the games.

The action pales a bit in comparison to that in the first film; there, it truly did feel like it was every boy and girl for him or herself. This time around, there are greater forces at work both in and out of the games that take away a bit of the impending-doom feel of the story. That, and the fact that we know a third (and fourth) part of the story is coming.

Still, director Lawrence admirably keeps the audience engaged throughout — not always an easy feat for a film that clocks in at nearly two-and-a-half hours. He’s helped, of course, by the steely performance of the unrelated Jennifer Lawrence.

The actress has proved herself capable of enormous magnetism since her breakthrough in Winter’s Bone, and her reprisal of Katniss is no different. She makes you believe every conflicted emotion Katniss experiences, which is quite a lot.

Hutcherson holds his own against Lawrence, matching her skills, if not her passion, because their roles call for different things. There are simply too many supporting actors to single out all of them for praise, but it’s a complete pleasure to see the returning players live up to their performances from the first film and to have new ones, like Jeffrey Wright and Lynn Cohen, fit seamlessly into the proceedings.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire does suffer a bit from middle-film syndrome, holding us over until the big fireworks in the finale(s). But everyone involved makes the film supremely entertaining, meaning expectations will still be off the charts with Mockingjay: Part 1 rolls around next November.

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