The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – 2013

Director Francis Lawrence
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci, Sam Claflin, Jena Malone, Donald Sutherland
Screenplay Simon Beaufoy, Michael deBruyn based on the book by Suzanne Collins

After struggling through the first book of the series, The Hunger Games, I was not looking forward to the movie at all.  Fortunately, Gary Ross, along with co-screenwriter Billy Ray, was able to separate the wheat from the chaff.  The result was a strong first installment, absent Collins’ mawkish running dialogue that created an absolutely unbearable lead character which served to damage the rest of the story.

Almost through a sense of duty, I struggled to read the rest of the series, even if doing so almost obliterated any goodwill that Jennifer Lawrence had achieved with her effortlessly authentic portrayal.  Absent the hemming and hawing, Lawrence shows vulnerability without making one feel like her next move will be hitting the couch with an open container of ice cream.

Watching the second film feels like more of a chore than the first.  We see more of the annoying Effie (Banks), more of Hamish (Harrelson) acting like he is acting drunk (yes, we know), and more Stanley “two chee!” as Caesar, pretending this is all the greatest thing since Entertainment Tonight came on the air.  Then there is the oppression, and the burgeoning revolution, which has one brilliantly conceived character Cinna (Kravitz), showing ideas in an imaginative way.

There is a bevy of new characters, from useful (Hoffman, Claflin, Wright and Malone) to peripheral (any of the other competitors) to annoying (Plummer).  There is a new location for the games, which feels kind of claustrophobic when you get down to it.  The best part of the film takes place there, even if – at an hour and a half – it takes too long to get there.

Lawrence the actress works as well with Lawrence the director as she did with Ross.  She owns the character, and its development.  Unlike the muddled wuss portrayed in the books, Lawrence’s Katniss is more assured than confused.  Even then, she’s still a little overwhelmed by the events.  Still, the movie looks better than the mental picture Collins presents in the books.  The combination of Collins story and Lionsgate films works thus far.

(***1/2 out of *****)

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