I re-watched the first Hunger Games before going to see Catching Fire and was like, "What is this, a political docu-drama? What is with the gritty-ass cinematography?" Full disclosure: I reviewed it favorably back in 2012, mostly because of my delight at the casting choices. Now, having seen what author Suzanne Collins' work could truly be, I poo-poo my younger self.
Now--(she trilled in her Effie voice)--let's move on!
This time around, the odds are stacked more cruelly against surly archer protagonist Katniss Everdeen (JLaw). Viewed by the oppressed districts as a symbol of rebellion, she becomes a personal target of President Snow (a magnificently evil Donald Sutherland). With the head Gamemaker gone, Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) steps in. As Katniss struggles to avoid further antagonizing the menacing leader of the Capitol, everyone else seems intent on pushing the role of hero upon her unwilling shoulders. Heavensbee has a solution: eliminate her by having her fight other Hunger Games victors during the Quarter Quell, or the 25-year window in the Games where the rules get to change.
The first half of the film solidly establishes the stakes, develops supporting characters, and shows off some seriously pimp Capitol costumes. As the flighty yet earnest Effie, Elizabeth Banks wears the hell out of her dresses, which I imagine took a team of civil engineers to assemble for every take. Catching Fire's visual strengths extend to Katniss and Peeta's trademark flaming ensembles, Katniss' wedding gown-slash-mockingjay dress, the training room, and the shiny new arena where the latest and most lethal crop of Tributes must fight to to the death.
The books are told from Katniss' perspective, so she has no idea what's really happening until the very end -- and the same is true for the movie. Who are her allies and enemies? Who is she really fighting for? What happens to the victor of the Quarter Quell games? And how is it humanly possible for Stanley Tucci to top his ridiculously entertaining performance from last year's movie?
Thanks to the much improved cinematography and the atmospheric soundtrack, this next chapter of Katniss Everdeen's adventure unfolds beautifully. As always, the casting is inspired. Women were getting their panties in a bunch for Gale (Liam Hemsworth, brother of Thor), and I have heard mum from Team Peeta so far. Not surprising, since he had to be rescued again. "Now Katniss must choose between her boyfriend and her girlfriend," announced Crispy. 'Tis ever so.
In conclusion: I'm watching The Hunger Games: Catching Fire again. May the odds be ever in my favor...so I may defeat the hordes of teenagers and young adults at the cinemas.
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