A lot has happened since The Hunger Games. Jennifer Lawrence won an Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook, and proceeded to charm the world with her smarts, self-effacing humor and her sass–not to mention her willingness to call BS on Hollywood. In the meantime, Hollywood had its annual falling-all-over-itself moment, marveling that a female protagonist could be the star of a film, and people would actually go see it. Who knew? And while audiences waited, the media machine fed us all images, teasers, and clever marketing for the long-awaited sequel. The wait was so long that by the time Catching Fire was actually coming up on its release date, I thought I had already seen it.
Thankfully the wait was worth it. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is perhaps better than the first (and I *LIKED* the first film), and I can’t help but be excited by that. Am I the only one that is tired of big, dumb action movies? (I’m looking at you, Thor!) It seems rare these days that a film can be exciting, smart, and even wring deserved tears from the audience.
Catching Fire picks up with Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) back home in District 12. Though they were the co-victors at the last Hunger Games (where they and all of their youthful opponents had to slaughter each other for the sport of the ruling Capitol), their reward of a peaceful retirement is uneasy. For one thing, as the winners, they are required to have a victory tour through the other districts, putting on their best game face, and pretending to be the lovebirds they portrayed on their bloody reality show. But their rebellion on the show stirred something in Panem, and the poor and starving folks have taken some rebellious inspiration from Katniss’ actions against the Capitol. A revolution is brewing, and people are looking to the Mockingjay, the Girl on Fire.
Clocking in at a good 2 1/2 hours, Catching Fire takes its time catching fire, but it is rather a slow burn, building to a very stressful finale. President Snow (Donald Sutherland, sinister and powerful) has Katniss’ number. Attempts to quash the rebellion only seem to stir up the citizens more. Knowing that Katniss’ presence alone is an inspiration, how should the Capitol cleanly get rid of her, without turning her into a martyr? Why, force her into another battle royale, this time against previous victors… a sort of Hunger Games: All Stars. Not only will it be the ultimate game, but it is the ultimate house-cleaning for the Capitol.
The Hunger Games series, so far, has not had any distracting hiccups in casting, with new characters like Finnick (Sam Claflin), Plutarch (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), and even Johanna (don’t try so hard, Jena Malone) all making an impression. With this second film, the story is pulling in more of the Katniss’ motivation (less romance, more protecting those she loves at any cost) and the societal politics that was such an important undercurrent of the book series.
But what continues to surprise and impress me (beyond the exciting action, the fantastic costumes, and the impressive special effects) is that unlike other big budget blockbusters and fantasy series, The Hunger Games movies, so far, always manage to make me cry. There is a moment in Catching Fire where Peeta cradles a dying woman in his arms. Shoot, I didn’t even know who she WAS and the scene made me cry.
Pay attention, Hollywood. You never know if audiences will start to rebel and demand quality blockbusters like this one….