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Review: “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”

Review: “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”

Review: “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”
November 22
16:10 2013

Film Critic / Preston Barta

Rating: 4.5/5

Continuing the trend of superior science-fiction sequels set by “Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back” (1980) and “Aliens” (1986), the second installment of the much anticipated “Hunger Games” franchise, “Catching Fire,” outshines its predecessor in nearly every department of filmmaking. While the first film was a solid offering, director Francis Lawrence (“I Am Legend,” 2007) makes “Catching Fire” darker, bigger and one of the best and most exciting films of the year.

Based on Suzanne Collins’ hugely popular book trilogy, “Catching Fire” assumes right from the start that its audience is familiar with the context and events from the first film. Coming from a well-written script by Simon Beaufoy (“Slumgdog Millionaire,” 2007) and Michael Arndt (“Toy Story 3,” 2010), the next chapter continues the story of the now 17-year-old Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and the fictional, futuristic nation of Panem.

After winning the 74th Annual Hunger Games along with fellow tribute Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), the duo become targets of the Capitol (the utopian city where the nation’s most wealthy and powerful reside), which sparks a rebellion within the Districts of Panem.

“Catching Fire” becomes the gripping and entertaining experience it is because of its story, which weaves in a tale of love, faith, strength and humanity. While the original followed the basic storyline very well, it lacked emotional depth. The character development was essentially non-existent, and the deaths in the arena had very little impact. However, Beaufoy and Arndt’s script give the actors fully-fledged characters and more material to chew on.

The immensely talented Lawrence, who took home the Oscar for Best Actress earlier this year for her stunning work in 2012’s “Silver Linings Playbook,” brings Katniss to life effortlessly. Lawrence exudes the spirit of her character in every breath of the film, and makes her one of the best, if not the best, heroines in cinematic history.

Gifted young actor, Hutcherson (“The Kids Are All Right,” 2010), compliments Lawrence’s towering performance with his flashing smile, charm and wits. The interactions between him and his merry company form the highlights of the film, such as one scene earlier on the film when Katniss and Peeta meet to go on their Victory Tour.

Other standouts in the cast include Stanley Tucci as the flamboyant talk-show host Caesar Flickerman, Woody Harrelson as the sarcastic but caring mentor Haymitch Abernathy, and Donald Sutherland as the vicious President Snow. But one cannot forget Elizabeth Banks as District 12 escort Effie Trinket. She continues to dazzle with her humor and outlandish attire and makeup.

The new members of the cast (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jena Malone and Jeffrey Wright) are great additions to an already powerful cast, especially Malone, who’s given some humorous bits of dialogue for audiences to throw at their friends.

True to its title, this middle installment genuinely catches fire, igniting the stage for what promises to be an epic conclusion in both parts of “Mockingjay” (2014 and 2015).

“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” is playing in theaters now.

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