News

REVIEW: The stakes are raised in ‘Catching Fire’

REVIEW: The stakes are raised in ‘Catching Fire’

Photo: YouTube

Genre:  Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi | Run Time: 146 min | Rated: PG-13
Director: Francis Lawrence | Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks

By: George Wolf

When a movie runs two and a half hours, yet the ending arrives as an unwelcome surprise, you know that film has done something right.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is that film, one that manages to do just about everything right.

From the start, it raises the stakes from last year’s franchise debut. While The Hunger Games was certainly a competent adventure, it was content (perhaps understandably) to work within the “young adult” parameters of Suzanne Collins’s source novel.

Catching Fire deals in more mature themes and sophisticated ideas, weaving an intelligent script, impressive direction and superlative performances into a massively entertaining blockbuster that leaves you anxious for the next chapter.

The story picks up with Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) on their victory tour, accompanied by their ever-present handlers Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and Effie (Elizabeth Banks). While the group is away, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and new chief game maker Plutarch (these names!) Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) worry that Katniss has become a symbol of hope for the common people, a symbol which could spur another uprising.

Planning to eliminating that threat, Snow declares the next Hunger Games will be played only by former victors,  which means Katniss and Peeta will again be fighting for their lives.

While this sounds like just another empty rehashing of a successful formula, Catching Fire’s scriptwriters, following Collins’s lead, have more on their minds.

Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire/127 Hours) and Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine/Toy Story 3), both Oscar winners, fill their script with the emotional heft needed to create a sequel which immediately creates the potential for a truly memorable trilogy.

We connect with the characters on a deeper level, the sociopolitical undertones carry greater nuance, and there are even some sly parallels offered between the superstar status of Katniss and the actress playing her.

Speaking of Lawrence, well, if you’re sick of hearing she’s great, call a doctor. She grounds Katniss in vulnerability while never relinquishing the character’s heroic status. Perhaps more impressively, she sells the love triangle, making Katniss’s conflicted feelings for both Peeta and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) totally believable. And not a shirtless wolf-boy in sight..who knew it was possible?

The strong supporting cast is peppered with new faces, such as Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, and Jena Malone, who plays against her former child star type as the edgy Johanna. Keep an eye out for her elevator scene, one of the film’s lighter moments. It’s a scream.

All the separate elements are wrapped in a nice holiday bow by director Francis Lawrence (no relation). He smoothly guides the film from spectacle to solitude and back again, providing some arresting visuals in the process (see the IMAX version if you can). Despite director Lawrence’s heretofore lackluster resume (Constantine/ Water for Elephants), the choice to keep him at the helm for the Mockingjay finale (to be split into two films) now seems totally justified.

Okay, Catching Fire does stumble here and there. The scenes of Haymitch introducing Katniss and Peeta to their new opponents seems more fitting for an American Gladiators reunion and…well, that’s about it.

Fans of the book should expect a fantastic realization of the world they imagined, while those who haven’t read the novels (like myself) get to fully enjoy the delicious twist at film’s end, one that may invoke memories of a certain empire striking back.

Either way, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is rousing, epic entertainment.

Verdict-4-0-Stars

Read more movie reviews at MaddWolf.com.

Recent Headlines

in Entertainment

‘Empire’ creators face lawsuit over Cookie

Fresh
empire

Sophia Eggleston, of Detroit, Michigan has filed a $300 million lawsuit claiming the show's central character Cookie, played by Taraji P. Henson, is so similar to her that creator Lee Daniels must have used her as his muse.

in Entertainment

Robert Downey, Jr. is laughing all the way to the bank

robertdowney

The "Iron Man" star is once again Hollywood's highest paid man.

in Music

Original AC/DC frontman to write tell-all

18-overlay3

Dave Evans, who was eventually replaced by Bon Scott, is planning a book about his time in the music business.

in Entertainment

‘Dungeons & Dragons’ coming to the big screen

dungeonsanddragons

Warner Brothers says the popular fantasy role-playing game is being converted into a feature film.

in Entertainment

Love is not dead: Will and Jada aren’t divorcing

23-overlay

"Men in Black" star Will Smith took the unusual step of publicly shooting down a report that he and his actress wife of 17 years had decided to divorce.