Fanning the flame

Fanning the flame

Sequel adds some interesting plot twists

By Tim Pompey 12/05/2013


The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Directed by Frances Lawrence
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some frightening images, thematic elements, a suggestive situation and language.
2 hrs., 26 min.


Katniss is back and as feisty as ever. Truly the poster child for dark-eyed stares and gritty determination, you can’t help but root for her, even if she’s sometimes buffeted by a recycled tale.

 


Still, adding some interesting twists, Hunger Games: Catching Fire carries on its predecessor’s tradition, elaborating on the love story (or stories) and eventually providing enough spunk to make it worth watching.


Most of the main characters have returned.  Katniss, Peeta, Gale, Haymitch, Effie. But some new faces appear as well, including new gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and allies such as Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin) and Wiress (Amanda Plummer).


Picking up where we last left off, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) are forced to endure a series of victory tours flaunting the power of Panem. Instead, the tour shows President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and his cohorts that the country is edging toward rebellion.


Wanting to fend off civil war and kill his newest winners, Snow and Heavensbee decide to put Katniss and Peeta back in the ring. For the 75th Hunger Games, they force the games’ surviving winners to come back and fight each other.


The interesting twist is that Haymitch advises Katniss and Peeta to form a series of allies, but who can they trust to work with them and against the others? You see, these games are more like Apprentice or Survivor. The ones who cultivate allies with the right set of skills have the best chance of surviving.

 

Director Francis Lawrence (Water for Elephants) has the formidable task of re-creating a new and interesting Hunger Games. His biggest challenge is to keep this behemoth story and bulging cast moving along with some clear focus and enough action to keep it exciting. A new setting helps — the lush and mysterious landscapes of Hawaii.


Unfortunately, the opening chapters are obligatory and predictable, kind of like those annoying recaps to your favorite TV shows. But as Lawrence gets closer to the games themselves, the pace picks up and he is able to re-create them with a sharp sense of excitement and drama. Some new challenges also add extra spice: warring monkeys, poisonous fog, even time itself.


Call him blessed to have the talents of  Academy Award-winning writers Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) and Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine), whose spare but gritty style is particularly succinct, not only for Katniss, Peeta and Gale, but also for the snarling President Snow and gamers such as Finnick, Beetee and Wiress.


Give credit to the cast as well, which somehow manages to take a retread story and give it some sense of depth. It’s as if there’s something bigger here they’re all trying to communicate about the fragility and importance of love and family.


So Lawrence, Hutcherson and Harrelson recapture their previous chemistry and are assisted by the additional screen time given to Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), Ellie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), President Snow and Hoffman’s smiling but dangerous Heavensbee.


In addition, Catching Fire successfully complicates the love triangle that exists between Katniss, Peeta and Gale. The question hinted at in the first film is more fully explored here:  Who does Katniss really love? Moreover, what might have been a stereotypical love story is tightened not only by Katniss’ alliances and loyalties, but by her own need to survive and protect.


Catching Fire has a little something for everyone. Action, love, humor, drama. It manages to return to the well one more time and find new waters. Not an easy task for a sequel. Still, I suppose it’s true: If you’re fighting for your life and the stakes are high, you can’t afford to let your guard down. Call it the will to survive. It’s what keeps this film interesting.

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