The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Review
There’s a special feeling you get when you see a franchise movie with a dedicated fan base on opening night. If any of you saw any of the Star Wars or Harry Potter movies this way you know what I mean. As bad as some of them may be you cannot help but get caught up in the excitement and passion that the fans exude from every pore and orifice. People show up in costume, show creepy fan tattoos, and will happily band together and beat the ass of any with the temerity to doubt the world wide worth of their favorite book-turned-movie character. These things add a flavor and energy to the film that otherwise might go unnoticed. Also if you fail to appear to enjoy the film there’s always that band together thing to worry about.
Well, except for Twilight, of course. There isn’t enough fan loyalty and good will in the universe to make that franchise watchable. We’re talking a general feeling of warmth here, not the almighty power of God. The best way to find one of those sparkly vampire movies enjoyable is on some serious drugs in a completely different room from the one the film is playing in, preferable in a different house in a different city or even on a completely different plane of existence where life is based on silicon rather than carbon and communication is through low level coded emissions of radiation. Speaking of God and different planes of existence the Charlie Sheen winning image I got from the funny t shirt category. It was the only winning image I could think of.
So the fan base at the late night screening last night added to my enjoyment of this film. I saw three girls dressed as Katniss (one with a fake bow and quiver of arrows, although for some inexplicable reason she had her pretend arrows coming out of the quiver point first). All of them were young and cute, which are two words that could describe a really large percentage of the audience. I felt like an even creepier old man than I do when I see kids movies. At least at kids movies some people might think I’m developmentally challenged. I really need to get a girlfriend who loves movies so I look like less of a loser. Lacking that I adopted my usual creepy solo loner at an inappropriate movie mien by scowling continuously while reading my own blog (let it not be said that I am not a fan of my own work, or that my ego needs inflating) on my phone, thus guaranteeing a bubble of at least two seats in all directions so I could watch the movie in relative peace.
I saw the first Hunger Games and was honestly shocked at how much I enjoyed it. I was expecting it to be another sparkly vampire fiasco and walked in with my bile cannon locked and loaded, but I am man enough to admit when my ill informed preconceived notions are incorrect. I went and read the book afterward and enjoyed it as well. Suzanne Collins is a talented writer and cut from a much different cloth than certain writers of other novel series designed to suck disposable income and brain cells from the purses and brain pans of teenage girls. Katniss had actual depth, was not caught in a pointless love triangle with sizzle chested man/boys, and had actual drama going on in her life not the problem of deciding which idyllic life to choose. She showed courage and strength of character when she volunteered as tribute in the place of her sister, and since I was invested in her character I honestly cared about what befell her.
This film continued that tradition. I opted to not read the second book until I had seen it and in retrospect I am glad I did. You see, in the moments prior to Katniss being raised up to the arena floor in this film I had a feeling so alien I had a hard time classifying it. I was leaning forward in my seat, my pulse was elevated, and I could feel adrenaline rushing through my body. Was I having a heart attack? Brain aneurism? About to Sublime to an energy based level of causality? No, this was honest to God excitement, the rarest and most valuable of emotions for a movie reviewer (or just movie attendee).
The fact is by not knowing what happened in the book and by being invested in both Katniss and Peeta (most of the rest of the cast too) I was honestly concerned for their safety. This is a harder thing to pull off than you might think, and when you see 150+ movies per year (and then write rambling reviews of them) it is even harder. Since I knew there was a third movie I could reasonably deduce that Katniss was probably going to survive, but what about Peeta? Or Haymitch? What was going to happen to Cinna or that sizzle chested man/boy Gale that Katniss was mooning over (God dammit!)? Any one of them could have ended up on the wrong end of a machete and that would have been both amazing and a bum out. Even the new tributes had me engaged (especially Johanna).
On the other hand, if I were to offer one major criticism to this movie (and you know I have to) it’s that this is another book-to-film adaptation that assumes we all worship at the Hunger Games alter and read from the holy books every night before going to bed. Sorry but I didn’t write my thesis on Catching Fire (it was actually on the diminishing appearance of masculine art in a marginalization environment, if you have to know) and there were any number of moments where I was going “Huh?” while the rest of the audience was laughing or nodding sagely. I feel dirty for saying this given how much I have bitched about the multiple movie approach to other books (cough cough the Hobbit cough cough) but I think this story was dense enough and rich enough to warrant a part I and II. There was lots of stuff only touched on that I think I would have enjoyed seeing explored.
The film starts off with Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence-Silver Lining’s Playbook, Winters Bone, X-Men First Class) having PTSD flashbacks while hunting with her sort of boyfriend Gale (Liam Hemsworth-the Expendables 2, Paranoia, the Hunger Games). She has to leave on a victory tour of the 12 Districts with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson-the Kids are All Right, American Splendor, Epic). Before leaving she is confronted by President Snow (Donald Sutherland-Mash, the Eye of the Needle, Ordinary People) who tells her that her poison stunt is being seen as an act of defiance and the only way she is going to not have her family killed is if she sells her fake romance with Peeta to the hilt.
(Quick aside-while it is absolutely true that the subtle nuances of the human mating rituals are entirely lost upon me (along with most of the not-so-subtle ones, and for that matter a lot of the painfully obvious ones) but given what he does for her it is apparent that Katniss absolutely does not deserve a guy as good as Peeta. Haymitch says exactly that, but as a man who works to be a good guy and help his friends (female and male) I was feeling a lot of Peeta’s pain. If any of you women wonder why you never date nice guys let me say on behalf of all the nice guys you have probably rejected in your life go to hell (no the irony is not lost).)
Anyway, they get on the bullet train with Haymitch (Woody Harrelson-Zombieland, Now You See Me, No Country for Old Men) and Effy (Elizabeth Banks-Pitch Perfect, the 40 Year Old Virgin, What to Expect When You are Expecting) and travel to all the districts. They start to see signs of discontent in a lot of them, to the point that they managed to inspire riots and executions. They try their best but Snow is convinced that the two of them are a threat to his power and stability. At a decadent party Katniss meets Plutarch Heavensbee (WTF is up with the names in this film? It doesn’t look that far in the future. No one is named Bill? Plutarch is played by Philip Seymour Hoffman-Moneyball, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, the Big Lebowski), the new head of the Hunger Games. He says some ominous stuff.
Katniss and Peeta keep screwing up, so Plutarch and Snow decide to do away with them. The big 75th anniversary Hunger Games is coming up and the opt to pull in just previous winners from each of the districts. Haymitch is chosen but Peeta volunteers in his place. They go through the whole pre game rigamarole more or less same as last time; training, evaluation, interviews with creepy Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci-the Terminal, The Devil Wears Prada, Captain America the First Avenger). This time the two of them work to build alliances with other tributes including wild girl Johanna (the strangely attractive Jena Malone-Sucker Punch, Contact, Into the Wild) and brainiac Beetee (Jeffrey Wright-Source Code, the Quantum of Solace, Casino Royale). All of the tributes are pretty pissed about getting dragged back into this fiasco and take every opportunity to turn the screws on President Snow.
They all get injected into the Games and Battle Royale mayhem ensues. This time there are no kids, but honestly it seemed even more cruel than last time. More effort is expended to survive the environment than each other. I don’t want to give away anything to anyone else who didn’t read the books, but there are twists and turns and the whole thing ends on a massive cliffhanger.
Much better story that the subject matter deserves if you know what I mean. The real story took place outside of the Games, and greatly explored a lot of the politics. Two stars. I am a big fan of both Donald Sutherland and Woody Harrelson. One star. Jennifer Lawrence was looking even hotter here than in the last one, and Jena Malone was really turning me on. Of course it could be that I am drawn to psychopathic women armed with razor sharp battle axes, but I don’t want to follow that thought thread too closely. One star. The combined story and characters had me really giving a damn about what happened to all of them. I was really engaged. Two stars. I honestly liked the big twist, and it left me excited about the next film. One star. President Snow is a great villain. One star. Action was fun and exciting. One star. Pacing was great, and you hardly felt the 146 minutes. One star. An excellent use of my time. Two stars. Total: twelve stars.
The black holes:
I don’t want to dump on the acting, but it was really inconsistent. Sometimes great, sometimes robotic as hell (except for Woody. He was solid throughout). One black hole. There were any number of points that would have made a lot more sense had I read the book. I know I could have, but honestly a film should always stand on it’s own merits and not require pre-reading. One black hole. The whole story felt really rushed. I have the feeling the directors cut runs like 3-4 hours. I think they missed an opportunity by not breaking this one into two films, and now that I have said that I will have to go to my dark closet and flagellate myself for crimes against film. One black hole. The sadistic nature of the Hunger Games has not softened with a second movie and I still find it really hard to watch. It is even more apparent in this one. I really hope there is some kind of long due comeuppance being delivered in the last film for everyone involved. One black hole. Total: four black holes.
Eight stars total. A very solid and respectable score. If you saw the first one you should absolutely see this one. If you are curious try to see the first one then see this one. The camera work is not so epic that it requires a big screen, so feel free to see it at home. That being said a large screen or IMAX will not be wasted. Date movie? A film about a hot capable chick who kicks ass and has a believable tragic romance? How could this not be a great date movie? Bathroom break? Hmm. I supposed if you aren’t into the visual of it the chariot scene is pretty expendable once they climb aboard. It’s pretty much the same exact scene as the last film. The training sequences are pretty perfunctory as well. Katniss kicks ass with a bow, everyone else is good at something. Not exactly the most staggering of expositions.
Thanks for reading. I’ll try to see something else tomorrow or Sunday and write it up. Follow me on Twitter (or don’t as the vast majority of my readers seem inclined to) @Nerdkungfu. Comments about this review or movie can be left right here, and if you have an off topic comment or suggestion feel free to email me at email@example.com. If you happen to work for a studio and want to get me in to see advanced screenings I am most definitely down to hear from you. Also I am willing to work with other sites publishing my reviews, so if your reviewer just went back to rehab and you are looking for someone let me know. Talk to you all soon.