Before we get to the main body of my review, I need to address a few things. First of all, remember that I liked The Hunger Games. I reviewed it on my blog and gave it 6/10, which I think is a fair score. Second, since when did “well, you’re not who the movie is aiming at?” become a get-out clause for movies that end up being utterly awful? Because The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is pretty awful. I KNOW I am not the target demographic, but I’m also not the target demographic for Monsters University or Magic Mike, and I enjoyed both of those movies. So dismissing my opinion because I’m not who the movie is mainly aimed at is your right, of course, but it’s also not entirely warranted.
Following on from the events of The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) are asked to visit a number of districts on their victory tour and inspire people with their “love story.”
President Snow (Donald Sutherland) doesn’t believe the love story, but he tells Katniss that if she can convince him then he can rest easy, knowing that others will be convinced and rebellious spirit will be held down. But there seems to be an uprising in the air, so the President decides that the best thing to do is create a special edition of The Hunger Games. An anniversary special that will pit former victors against one another, and show Katniss ready to turn on people when she wants to stay alive.
What works in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire? The cast. The cast are all fantastic. Lawrence and Hutcherson are both great, but nobody onscreen gives a bad performance. As well as Sutherland, who remains suitably menacing, the sequel allows Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Liam Hemsworth, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci and many more to return to their roles. Banks, in particular, benefits more this time around, her character as sweet and caring as she is stuck in the system that keeps her in a good life. Unfortunately, Tucci starts to irritate this time around, whereas in the first movie he was an enjoyable distraction. Newcomers include Sam Claflin, Lynn Cohen, Jena Malone, Jeffrey Wright and Amanda Plummer as fellow competitors in the games. Everyone does well, with Claflin and Malone both on great form. Those who dislike Plummer being twitchy and kooky may be disappointed to find her being twitchy and kooky here – can she do anything else nowadays? And Philip Seymour Hoffman does well with his limited screentime, playing the most recent creator of the games.
Does anything else work? Yes, the design and visual style of the movie, before the third act that takes place in the games arena, is superb. The dresses worn by Elizabeth Banks alone are quite a sight to behold, but there are a number of nice moments that revel in the excesses and gaudiness of the haves compared to the needs and drab lifestyles of the have-nots.
That’s about all I can say in praise of the movie. I’m sorry. I’ve heard that Suzane Collins is happier with this movie than the film that preceded it, and I can guess why. At 146 minutes, this is packed full, surely, of almost everything that’s in the book. No matter how dull or un-cinematic, nothing appears to have been omitted. Writers Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt may have kept fans of the books happy, which is a large portion of the audience, but I doubt they have kept anyone else happy.
It’s hard to figure out just what director Francis Lawrence was thinking as he put the film together. The pacing is so sluggish, the action is unexciting, the material that he has to work with appears to have been written by a hyperactive child (not his fault, of course, but he hasn’t even covered over any of the glaring flaws from the source material). Honestly, the plot is akin to something I would have written in primary school, one of those tales in which a child author can suddenly produce anything at all just to get the plot, or/and characters, from A to B to C. The first 20 minutes or so has some interesting ideas, and shows more of the fractured society that made up the background of the first movie, but everything just goes on for far too long. I’m not sure that many teenagers will enjoy 90 minutes of talk about the economic divide, although the fleeting romantic interludes may help.
Despite my dislike of the movie, which will have no impact whatsoever on the general consensus (so fear not), I am pleased for those onscreen who are benefiting from their involvement in such a big franchise. Jennifer Lawrence, especially, has shown over the past few years that she deserves every bit of success she has had, and will have in the future.
If you’ve read the books that the franchise is based on then you have nothing to fear. This movie is tailor-made for you, enjoy it. But for anyone going to the cinema who wants to enjoy a movie as an actual movie, as opposed to a slavish adaptation of a teen novel, think twice.
DIRECTOR: FRANCIS LAWRENCE
WRITER: SIMON BEAUFOY, MICHAEL ARNDT (BASED ON THE NOVEL BY SUZANNE COLLINS)
STARS: JENNIFER LAWRENCE, JOSH HUTCHERSON, ELIZABETH BANKS, WOODY HARRELSON, LIAM HEMSWORTH, DONALD SUTHERLAND, PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN, LENNY KRAVITZ, STANLEY TUCCI, SAM CLAFLIN, LYNN COHEN, JENA MALONE, JEFFREY WRIGHT, AMANDA PLUMMER
RUNTIME: 146 MINS APPROX