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The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – Review

catching-fire-movie-posterI didn’t like The Hunger Games very much.  It’s not a very well made picture.  It had a lot of talent both in front of and behind the camera, but much of it was wasted.  It was however pre-sold because of the successful book series and became a huge hit, thus a movie franchise was born and a sequel was rushed into production.  Hooray.

Considering that this is a blockbuster franchise about children forced to kill other children, I give this sequel credit for showing how haunted Katniss is about the events of the first picture.  She essentially has P.T.S.D.  The execution of this could be better, but I like the concept.

I’m a huge fan of Jennifer Lawrence.  She is a great beauty and a very talented and compelling actress with a lot of charisma.  The only reason I liked the first picture at all was because of her.  She does the best she can here, but the material is not great.  And Katniss sure seems like the most passive lead character in any blockbuster action franchise.  Does she do anything heroic here?  Does she take any initiative or do anything to forward the plot?  Imagine if she actually did something bold or courageous to anger the President on the Victory Tour.

There is a great setup here between Donald Sutherland’s President Snow and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Plutarch and both actors stand out in this picture in their limited screen time.  They hatch a plan to publicly destroy Katniss’ image and make the Districts hate her.  But that plan is quickly abandoned for some reason and they rush into the next Hunger Games.  I wanted to see that movie where they execute their plan and turn the people against her.

The whole timeline of this picture seemed off to me.  It seems to start right after the last Hunger Games and takes us on the Victory Tour, but then with seemingly little time passing, we are plunged right into the following year’s Hunger Games.  It sure doesn’t seem like there is a year between them.

Peeta is a wimp of a character who always seems to need someone to look out for him and take care of him.  And Josh Hutcherson does nothing to make him compelling.  I have no idea why anyone would like or root for this character.  Once the games started, I was really hoping he would get killed off so we could move on.

Even though there are some major saliva exchanges, there is zero chemistry between Lawrence and Liam Hemsworth’s Gale or between her and Hutcherson’s Peeta.  So the whole love triangle thing is a total bust.

I have always been a fan of Jena Malone and she’s my favorite thing about this picture.  She definitely has the best entrance of any of the characters.  Unlike the mopey leads, she actually seems like someone who has been thrust into a life or death situation and is dealing with it.

Sam Claflin also makes a big impression here as Finnick Odair.  The picture actually takes life when he is on screen.  And with he and Lawrence and Malone on screen together, this could have been something really special.  But it is star making performance from Claflin.

As for the rest of the cast, Woody Harrelson wasn’t nearly as entertaining this time around.  I don’t recall one memorable moment.  Paula Malcomson barely registers.  Elizabeth Banks was a bore.  Lenny Kravitz finally changes his expression once in a crucial scene.  Stanley Tucci scored some laughs, but all I could wonder was does his Caesar Flickerman have Snooki’s teeth or does Snooki have his teeth, which came first?  The great Jeffrey Wright is totally wasted here.  I’m tired of Amanda Plummer playing crazy.  And Toby Jones is on screen so briefly I wondered why he was here at all.

Just like the first one, much of the rich people’s wardrobe, hair and makeup is so ridiculously over the top that it feels like parody and breaks any sense of reality.  The same is true of many of the character names.  They sound like a 5 year old made them up and are so silly that it’s hard to take the picture seriously.

Catching Fire makes the same huge mistake that the first picture did when it comes to the characters’ preparation for the games.  If I was forced to compete, I would take advantage of my mentor and pick his brain for everything he knows about the games and the competitors.  They spend about two minutes on this, but it by no means seems like they significantly prepared.  I would also watch video of the previous games and study.  I would have a strategy.  I wouldn’t be completely passive.  In the first one, there was a lot of talk of getting sponsors, but we barely saw that process.  Here there is a lot of talk about making allies, but very limited screen time to actually achieving that.  What we do get in terms of preparation is mostly boring.

The games themselves have some compelling moments and some real danger, but most of the action is rushed and there is nothing really memorable about it.  And since the two leads have no strategy and are so passive, it’s really frustrating and very hard to root for them.  It is Finnick who takes the initiative and drives the action, so at least someone has a plan.

A dangerous thing can happen when a movie is as pre-sold as this one is.  The care and craft of storytelling can become lost either because no one cares since everyone involved knows the movie will be a success or because the filmmaker has so much control, no one dare question him/her.  As a result we get movies like this and like The Matrix sequels, The Transformers series, X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Dark Knight Rises, etc.

Although this picture clocks in at 146 minutes, there is a lot of wasted screen time.  Perhaps it is very faithful to the book, I don’t know as I haven’t read it.  But the adaptation has not made for a strong, stand alone movie.  It’s not even a strong chapter of a bigger story.  All that running time could have been used in a much more dramatic, compelling way.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment in this picture is that there is no ending.  It literally ends on a cliffhanger that sets up the next one.  And because the next one is the first part of a two movie adaptation of the third book, I expect it won’t have an ending either.  That’s no way to make a great picture.

Catching Fire is a better made movie than the first one, and I give credit for that to Director Francis Lawrence, but it’s really no more satisfying.  There are compelling ideas here, but the execution of almost all of them is mediocre.  Considering how much talent has been assembled to make this picture, the end result is a big disappointment.

Rating: ★★½☆☆

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Brian McQuery

Brian is a writer/director from Chicago who has made 9 short films and is developing his first feature. He has hosted Q&A events at the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles for films including GoodFellas and Aliens. He works as an Assistant Director on independent films. He misses Chicago style deep dish pizza, but otherwise loves living in Los Angeles. http://www.brianmcquery.com/ Web site: www.brianmcquery.com info@brianmcquery.com

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One Comment

  1. Not as good as the first, but still a worthy addition to a franchise that seems like it’s on the brink of breaking some mighty fine box-office records. Good review Brian.