Monday, November 25, 2013

Review 221: "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire"

Peeta should have bread superpowers.

All Stars

      The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is the 2013 second installment in the hugely popular Hunger Games series following the 2012 film The Hunger Games,  Based on the book series The Hunger Games, specifically the book Catching Fire, the film is directed by Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend) and written by Simon Beaufoy (127 Hours) and Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3), the film follows Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) as they once again are forced back into the fight-to-the-death Hunger Games by evil President Snow (Donald Sutherland), this round being an all-star edition that brings former victors back into the game, including fish boy Finnick (Sam Claflin), tech guy Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), and naked tree lady Johanna (Jena Malone). As Katniss fights in the games, she also deals with her feelings for Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and a new threat in the form of Philip Seymour Hoffman. Let the games begin!

Uhh, guys, you're on fire. AGAIN!
Let the Games Begin... Again?

      On the one hand I'm not very surprised that the new Hunger Games movie went on to have the sixth highest opening weekend. On the other hand, I go to school with teenagers, a phrase that sounded way less obvious in my head, and teenagers are the target audience for Hunger Games. I know a lot of fans, both student and teacher, and the consensus was largely the same. According to the fans of the books, the first movie... was awful and completely ruined the point of the book and they weren't and have yet to see the new film. And as a person gong into this series with just the last film to remember, yeah, I can see where they are coming from. At the time, I liked the first Hunger Games and I even bought it on Blu-Ray, but since watching it again, I have to say the film isn't nearly as good as it should have been. Sure, it's all fine and entertaining, but the film suffered from a poorly constructed story, a flat central romance, plot holes, taking itself too seriously and a shaky cam that seemed to become the universal standard on how not to make that work. And unfortunately, Catching Fire only fixes one and a half of those problems.

The Blunder Games

      The overall problem with The Hunger Games as a whole is the fact that there's a lot of really interesting stuff that executed in a largely flat and poor way. Here, it seems that we are just delaying the inevitable rebellion storyline by throwing in the admittedly cool premise of Hunger Games: All-Stars. There was always a part of me during the movie that thought that the games in this film were pointless and only existed to fill the void between movies one and three (And four?). Which could work if the games were interesting, which they are... but not enough. The games are set up by having all these crazy past victors, including an elderly woman, a woman who sharpened her teeth into fangs and a duo that kill people with science, all of whom  do absolutely nothing. I don't even think fang lady shows up again. As a result, the games themselves are a huge disappointment and only occasionally get saved by a cool environmental attack or a weird deal with a clock. Why a clock though, I don't know. The film seems desperate to get by on only passingly explaining what is happening. So readers of the books might follow along better, but for outsiders like me, I was constantly finding myself wondering why the things happening were happening. And the film doesn't seem all that interested in giving me answers. The film ends on a big anti-climax, with a "big, revealing" line getting told to Katniss, meant to shock everyone in the audience. But instead, without any context given for this twist, as a non-fan of the books, I have no clue as to what this actually meant or more importantly, why I should care. Instead, focus is given to Katniss and Peeta's romance. Which would be fine if Lawrence and Hutcherson had chemistry. Like, at all. Don't get me wrong. I have no trouble believing Peeta loved Katniss. But I don't even remotely buy that Katniss even cared about Peeta, despite the film constantly reminding us. 

For the Fans

      Catching Fire just cannot escape the same problems the original made. Mostly, at least. Here, director Lawrence does restrain from using shaky cam for most of the movie... until we get to the Hunger Games themselves, when he uses it in almost every fight scene, once again making the action an incomprehensible mess. But the film saving grace is simply that it no longer so serious. The film tries, and mostly fails, to have some fun. It is still solidly entertaining though. I was never really bored and I do want to find out how this story ends, even if it's mostly to hopefully answer my questions. I was having fun, even if that mostly stemmed from me and a friend joking that Peeta  should always be carrying bread and should have a specific type of bread for every situation. Whatever works. And I know people still love the series. In my showing Sunday afternoon, a little girl in the audience audibly shouted "YES!" when Katniss said her favorite color was green, which is easily the most adorable thing that's ever happened in a movie theater. The film is definitely touching people, which is nice seeing as how everyone involved is clearly trying.

The Verdict

      The Hunger Games series is still yet to touchdown, but at least with Catching Fire, they're moving up the field. The film is saved largely thanks to having a bit more fun with itself and is still a good time at the movies. But it still is suffering from a story that leaves to many questions unanswered and a group of characters with little chemistry. Catching Fire is fine, but hopefully it's building to a something greater. Like a third movie I'd actually watch more than once. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire gets 4 and a half stars out of 6.

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