Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire review; hope will always triumph over fear

Last year, The Hunger Games was a phenomenon.  A book adaptation starring Jennifer Lawrence, in the lead role of Katniss Everdeen.  The film was based on the book written by Suzanne Collins.  Fast forward a year and a half and we've got the sequel, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.  Director Francis Lawrence has taken over the franchise, and the entire original cast has returned.  If the first film was only the spark to something greater... this film totally catches fire!  Let's go!

What I liked about the film:
The Acting/Characters
Jennifer Lawrence just keeps getting better and better.  Seriously, this young woman is an incredible actress, and she shows it in this film.  She perfectly portrays what Katniss is dealing with internally.  The character is dealing with the fact that she has killed people.  She will never be able to shake that off, and she's essentially been trapped in a fake life.  Lawrence has to juggle confusion, anger and compassion without having the character fall apart.  It's only because of Lawrence that the film's narrative can be carried out so flawlessly.  Not only is she a beautiful actress, but she's an incredibly talented one as well.  And the final frame of the film will have you mesmerized by her performance until the next film.

The supporting characters get to shine in this sequel, without taking away from the main characters' arcs.  Josh Hutcherson returns as District 12's other tribute, Peeta Mellark.  While I felt Hutcherson came off as a whiny, love-struck woos in the first film, that's not the case here!  Hutcherson is strong, confident, and knows who he is.  I really enjoyed this character's growth!  Liam Hemsworth returns as well, as Katniss' hometown love interest.  I think Hemsworth did a fine job with the little material he had.  Now I've never read the books, but I sure hope there's something more for him to do in the future of the series.

Woody Harrelson plays a terrific mentor to the tributes.  He's still battling alcoholism, but has a fondness for Katniss and Peta that he can not deny.  Elizabeth Banks returns as a fashion loving socialite that also loves the tributes, but can do little to stop the events in the film.  She figuratively, and literally, adds a lot of color to the film.  Lenny Kravitz and Stanley Tucci are just awesome in their respective roles despite limited screen time.  And then there are the men of the Capital.  Philip Seymour Hoffman plays the new 'Game Master' running the new Hunger Games.  He's devious and has a plan much bigger than The Hunger Games themselves.  And lastly, the amazing Donald Sutherland.  His portrayal as President Snow is, well, perfect.  He's a man hellbent on staying in power, at any cost.  He will kill, he will burn entire cities to the ground, to ensure the people of the Districts fear the government.  If Katniss Everdeen is the spark to a revolution, he will diffuse it with all the water in the Great Lakes if that's what is necessary.  He's creepy, and absolutely brilliant.  I love it.

Everything is Stepped up a Notch
The Set Design, the special effects, and even the stakes are bigger, better and higher in this movie.  Granted the budget was twice that of the original film, but it truly shows.  You can see that every penny was well spent.  New costumes, a new 'arena' where the tributes battle, as well as new challenges within the Hunger Games, all give you a sense of an elevated scope.  Ignoring the bigger and better special effects, you get a sense that something BIG is happening off-screen.  And that has nothing to do with budgets or CGI, he has to do with great storytelling.  Francis Lawrence and company really brought their A-game.

It is my favorite aspect of the series so far, and has so much to do with Suzanne Collins writing in the books.  The first movie was symbolic of a spark, the beginning of something greater.  Director Gary Ross and company, only hinted at an uprising among the people of the Districts.  He captured signs of hope, and defiance, towards the Capital.  This movie, symbolically, catches fire with that hope.  It's a movement that President Snow, and the Capital in general, are not ready for.  I would find it incredibly difficult to personify hope, and fear; but Francis Lawrence has done exactly that.  I really can't wait to see what the next film has in store, when it comes to this amazing concept of hope always winning over fear.

The Director
Francis Lawrence made so many great choices int his film.  The pacing and storytelling are superb.  There is no time wasted; every word spoken means something, and there's very little filler. Often times sequels feel like a re-telling of the first film, with more money thrown at it.  Lawrence made the film his own, without alienating fans of the first film.  I am SO happy he will be back to direct the two movies based on the third and final book, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay!

What I didn't like about the film:
The Tone/Comedy
Ok, hear me out after I make this statement... the movie is too funny.  I'm serious about this.  The film deals with very very serious subject matter.  A dystopian government that does everything in its power to keep its people oppressed.  A reality-show, based on a game where kids are expected to kill each other, as a 'tribute' to the government.  Now, I'm ok with sprinkling in a bit of humor here and there, to lighten up the mood.  But in a theater packed full of people, the audience was laughing at certain scenes that I doubt the director intended to evoke laughter.  That was a problem for me because it took me out of the experience.  I'm curious to discuss this with my Twitter followers, did anyone else get that feeling?

The Verdict:
Can't Wait For Mockingjay
There are some movies that are nothing more than a setup for a final film.  Take Iron Man 2 building up towards The Avengers; or Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part 1 for example.  I'm sure people would argue those are good films, but they just felt like a setup picture.  And Catching Fire does an amazing job of avoiding this.  The story itself is self-contained, and on its own, manifests an eagerness to see what happens nexts.  The direct and the cast are just awesome in this movie.  I really can't wait to see what the next two films will bring us.  I'm totally in!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice review Tony. There's plenty promise left in this franchise, which is exactly how this movie ends, and done so perfectly, too.