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The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Directed by Francis Lawrence
Produced by Nina Jacobson and Jon Kilik
Screenplay by Simon Beaufoy and Michael deBruyn Based on the novel Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
With: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Sam Claflin, Jena Malone, Amanda Plummer, Lynn Cohen, Willow Shields, Paula Malcomson, Toby Jones, Stanley Tucci, and Donald Sutherland
Cinematography: Jo Willems
Editing: Alan Edward Bell
Music: James Newton Howard
Runtime: 146 min
Release Date: 22 November 2013
Aspect Ratio: 2.35 : 1
Color: Color

The Hunger Games sequel, Catching Fire, is virtually a carbon copy of the original film except that it lacks an ending. This saga’s second chapter is less Empire Strikes Back and more The Two Towers, in that it gives us nothing we didn’t see in the first picture. While the new film is less incompetently directed, and the story raises the stakes a teeny tiny bit for Katniss Everdeen, its feisty teenage heroine, Catching Fire duplicates the first film’s structure, characters, and even the specific scene-to-scene events without expanding on its premise or developing its central relationships.  Potentially interesting new cast members are wasted (literally and figuratively). Fellow “tribute” Amanda Plummer barely registers on screen. Her partner Jeffrey Wright delivers the same deer-in-the-headlights performance he brings to every big-budget genre picture in which he’s cast.  Sam Claflin and Jena Malone fare a bit better but their characters should be far more developed over this two and a half hour film. Philip Seymour Hoffman, as the new head gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee, avoids a goofy costume and hairstyle, but his dialogue is so flimsy that he possesses no menace or vitality. The scenes where Heavensbee and Donald Sutherland’s villainous President Snow sit around and hatch their evil plans are far too adolescent to take seriously, even in a film specifically made for teens.

Catching Fire declares its themes of honor and sacrifice, loyalty and love, the way a little kid declares what he or she wants to be when they grow up— without any insight. It does far better with the theme of celebrity—both the problems of being one and the falseness of idealizing one. The movie is certainly watchable, just as the first picture was, and since the milieu and characters are already well established, the logic holes and the base line absurdity stand out far less awkwardly in this movie. Director Francis Lawrence (Constantine, I Am Legend, Water for Elephants) does not employ the frustrating shaky-cam style of original director Gary Ross, but too much of the actual “games” are still photographed in an under-lit, unimaginative style. The challenges the tributes face in the arena are also uninspired and visually unimpressive—water, digital fog, screaming monkeys, lightning, etc. It is to Jennifer Lawrence’s credit that she manages to come off so well, despite the fact that she doesn’t get to kick much butt this time out.  Her Katniss doesn’t have much to do in this picture beyond radiating intensity as she witnesses injustice, looking beautiful in many zany outfits, and crying a big ol’ single tear down her lovely cheek at key moments (many key moments!). Perhaps Katniss’s aloofness is what enables Lawrence to shine so brightly. She stands out in a sea of overblown acting, simplistic writing, dull visuals and campy costume design. Lawrence is so transcendent that, despite my inability to recommend the second film, I’m still rooting for Katniss.