The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
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In the thrilling sequel THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE, Katniss Everdeen and fellow tribute Peeta Mellark have barely returned home after winning the 74th Annual Hunger Games when they are whisked away once again by the Capitol. Forced to leave her family and best friend Gale, Katniss is dispatched on a victory tour of Panem with Peeta, where rebellion is seething in all 12 districts. The Capitol is enraged and ready to strike back... as President Snow prepares the most diabolical edition of the Hunger Games yet.
When it comes to blockbuster franchises, the first sequel frequently offers pumped-up versions of the initial thrills--to diminishing results. Catching Fire, however, the second adaptation drawn from Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games trilogy, defies that trend with more finely drawn relationships. With the 74th Games in the history books, Katniss (Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence, as comfortable in warrior garb as in designer couture) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson, better than ever) set out on a victory tour across Panem with Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and Effie (Elizabeth Banks). Despite her best efforts to feign romance with her co-competitor and to keep posttraumatic stress at bay, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) fears that Katniss's defiant nature will incite rebellion, so he takes a tip from new gamemaker Plutarch (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and launches a Quarter Quell in which past champions, such as the hilariously bitter Johanna (Jena Malone) and the deceptively arrogant Finnick (Sam Claflin), will fight to the death. Not all tributes are quite so young, like Mags (Lynn Cohen), a senior citizen who suits up for battle and establishes a touching bond with Finnick (Jeffrey Wright and Amanda Plummer play the craftiest teammates). Until the cliffhanger ending, director Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend) serves up an array of splendors, from killer baboons to the ever-amazing outfits of Effie and Caesar (Stanley Tucci). Most significantly, the script from cowriter Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) strengthens the bonds between Katniss and Peeta and Gale (Liam Hemsworth), who prove themselves more worthy than ever of Katniss's affections. --Kathleen C. Fennessy
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The action is well-handled, the supporting cast of victors (Mags, "Nuts", "Volts", Johanna and Finnick each are well-cast, well-scripted and make for an exciting ensemble cast.) The character of the new Gamesmaster Plutarch Heavensbee is excellent. The late Philip Seymour Hoffman plays him a bit ambiguously. Is he on the side of Snow, a sadistic creator of impossible-to-win situations, or is he secretly sympathetic with the rebels? He was perfectly cast and it's a shame he died before completing the next film (Mockingjay) though he did shoot a fair number of scenes. A loss of a talented actor.
My only complaint is similar to the one I have now in the trend to serialize novels. It ends on a cliffhanger and of course we're waiting for the next film. I just don't think it makes a standalone film to end on a surprise note and such unfinished business. But never mind, the third film is on the way and I'm certain it will be as good or better than "Catching Fire."
Lawrence, who has surprising range for a young actress, in fact plays the emotionally conflicted Katniss perfectly. I've tried, but I just can't imagine anyone else in this role. There are other actors who could match her physicality and some who might be able to match her emotional range but I can't think of anyone who could combine them in the way that she seems to do so effortlessly.
She isn't the only one who nails her role in this lavish dystopian film, however. Donald Sutherland as the evil President Snow, for example, brings exactly the right level of intense malevolence to the role. The late Philip Seymour Hoffman, in one of his last roles, is excellent as the new game master who has an agenda of his own, and Josh Hutcherson plays Peeta as though he was born into the role. Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks and Liam Hemsworth also stand out in this remarkable movie.
If you liked 'The Hunger Games' then this movie is something you must see.