“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” the second in the”Hunger Games” trilogy, is back in competitive form. Directed by Francis Lawrence and based on Suzanne Collins’ novel, Catching Fire, with screenplay by Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt, the film is a worthy sequel to the 2012 “Hunger Games.” Although abetted by terrific supporting cast, make no mistake, the glue that holds “Catching Fire” together is its star, Jennifer Lawrence, in all of her girl-power mojo.
When the first film ended, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson ) were declared winners of the 74th Hunger Games. In Games past, the winner was the sole survivor of a fight to the death finish. However, in the 74th Game, Katniss and Peeta refused to kill one another. They pretended to be lovers, vowing to eat poisonous berries and die together. However, they were stopped from so doing and were declared joint winners.
“Catching Fire” begins with Katniss and Peeta preparing for their victory tour. Katniss is still harboring some after-effects from what took place during the 74th Games and isn’t overly eager for the tour. Following her goodbye to real boyfriend, Gale (Liam Hemsworth), she has a meeting with President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Concerned that the country isn’t totally buying her and Peeta’s relationship, he “urges” her to make their love convincing…to the citizens and him…or else harm will come to her friends and family.
The tour isn’t a complete success. Rebellion is in the air. To silence the threat, President Snow declares the 75th Hunger Games, pitting past winners against one another. Alliances are formed and the Games begin.
“Catching Fire” allows for the introduction of new characters and actors as well as the return of familiar faces. Two newcomer standouts are Jena Malone and Sam Claflin as Johanna and Finnick,winners from their districts. Malone is especially good, as she always is. Also new to the film is Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee, the gamemaker, who adds just the right touch of mystery to his role.
In all truth, the returning older male actors steal the movie right from under their younger male co-stars. Donald Sutherland can out malevolent anyone with his voice alone. When he is on the screen it’s hard to notice anyone else. Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman, the Game’s host, repeats his sublimely over the top performance. And Woody Harrelson’s Haymitch is once again fabulous as Katniss’ and Peeta’s advisor (honestly, when you watched “Cheers” did you ever expect him to be the actor he’s become?). Elizabeth Banks, back as Effie Trinket, the stylist, has more to do this go-round and she is terrific.
In her short movie career, Jennifer Lawrence has yet to make a false step. She is perfect as the multi-dimensional Katniss—tough, vulnerable—and she still rocks that bow and arrow. Josh Hutcherson has proven to be a good actor, but he’s just not convincing as Katniss’ love interest. Liam Hemsworth isn’t given much to do in this installment, but supposedly has a larger role in the next film.
The Games are set around a lake and the special effects are wonderful. The fog scenes are especially good and the monkeys…let’s just say you won’t get as close to the monkey cage next time you visit the zoo…they are that fearsome. Trish Summerville’s costume design are utterly breathtaking. They are nearly characters in and of themselves.
“Hunger Games: Catching Fire” drags a bit in the middle, but does pick up once the Game is in full-throttle mode. If you haven’t read the books, it leaves you in enough suspense to make you want to see what comes next.
2 ¾ nuggets out of 4