By Peter Hyle and Christian DiMartino
Can Katniss Everdeen ever catch a break? Judging from her second outing, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, it does not appear so. The producers should have called the movie Katniss Everdeen’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, because bad things just do not seem to stop for her.
Katniss, the beautiful young heroine played masterfully by Oscar-winner Jennifer Lawrence, is a character that the audience really roots for. After surviving the 74th annual “Hunger Games” in the previous film, it would seem as if her and her possible love interest, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) should live their lives in peace, right? Wrong.
The sequel, which is the second adaptation in Suzanne Collin’s wildly popular Hunger Games trilogy, finds Katniss and Peeta a year later, desperately trying to recover from the “Games”, but the viewer knows that will not happen. If that was the case, why would the movie exist? When Panem, their homeland, starts rebelling due to their victory, the diabolical President Snow (Donald Sutherland) announces the “Quarter Quell, an event that throws past winners back into games, to celebrate the 75th year. Before they know it, Katniss and Peeta are called back into action for another round of survival.
The original Hunger Games film worked very well because of its chilling premise and because of its protagonist, even if it was too long. The sequel, though still too long, is better than its predecessor.
The first hour, which focuses on the aftermath of the games and the madness in Panem, is fantastic. The final hour and a half, when the games are going on, is not as strong, but it is always suspenseful and gripping. Watching these unlucky characters fight for survival is sort of a blast. The miracle of the final portion is that it could have been de ja vu, but it turns out to be rather inventive.
There are some additional improvements. The visual effects are much better. Also, some of the characters that did not get to do much, such as President Snow, finally get to do something.
The most notable improvement, surprisingly, is Lawrence. Lawrence, who won an Oscar for her extraordinary performance in last year’s Silver Linings Playbook, was pretty good last time. This time, it seems as if winning the Oscar has motivated her because she is even better. For an action hero, her performance is top notch. She will not win an Oscar for it, but it is still impressive.
Also, what a great cast altogether. Not only does the majority of the cast from the original, which included Woody Harrelson, Lenny Kravitz, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, and Stanley Tucci, return. Now there is even more added to the ensemble. Oscar-winner Philip Seymour Hoffman, one of the greatest actors alive, plays the villainous game-maker Plutarch. Jeffery Wright, Amanda Plummer (what happened to her?), and Jena Malone also star as fellow tributes.
The film does not waste much time dwelling on the past. In other words, if you have not seen the previous movie or read the books, you may get lost. Not completely lost, but pretty much.
Overall, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a remarkable visual achievement that benefits from its main actress and cast, not to mention a more interesting storyline. That said, the film is a little too long, and like the original, Gale (Hemsworth) is under-written. He really is not as big of a character as he should be. Flaws aside, it is still a very good film. It might not have worked without Lawrence, or, as Katniss is nicknamed, “the girl on fire”. The world needs Katniss Everdeen, and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I cannot arrive sooner.