Great Performances and Production Values
In the Hunger Games series, anything can go wrong at just the right time. During The Hunger Games: Catching Fire -- the middle film -- this immediately proves true. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is in much need of a rest, after being labeled the “Girl on Fire” and the top survivor in District 12’s 74th Annual Games at the Capitol of the Panem nation. But Panem’s evil and hard-hearted President Snow (Donald Sutherland) has another plan, which he hopes means her death.
Katniss’ sister Primrose (Willow Shields) has been chosen to duel in the next deadly Hunger Games. Katniss knows Primrose will not survive this event, so she decides to find a way to safety for her and her family. She involves her boyfriend Gale (Liam Hemsworth) in her plot, but before they can even hatch their plan, Snow has them watched, audiotaped and knows what they are up to. He insists Katniss and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), her partner in the games, must do a Victors’ PR tour to all the districts spouting their support of the new regime. If they fail in this mission, their family members will be killed.
Snow has devised all kinds of games to test the skills of each tribute. The arena, games and challenges are all new. Even the gamemaker, Plutarch (Philip Seymour Hoffman), is new. When Snow gets fed up with Katniss’ luck at surviving, he wants her killed. To accomplish that, he wants her to participate in the special Quarter Quell anniversary game, which is won by the last one standing. This is hard for Katniss to comprehend because her evil doings will make good people die.
The Quarter Quell anniversary game will unite the most famed of the past Victors, including Katniss, Peeta, Finnick (Sam Caflin), Bee Tee (Amanda Plummer), axe-thrower Johanna Mason (Jena Malone) and Mags (Lynn Cohen), the 80 year-old former victor known for her compassion.
When Katniss and Peeta make PR remarks before the large audience, they get rounds of applause. Snow and Plutarch see this on their “in-the-air” TV-like screens. After the audience members raise their three middle fingers that symbolize admiration for Katniss, Snow gets furious and plots further revenge.
Standouts in the cast are Woody Harrelson, Lawrence and Sutherland. Harrelson plays his cards well as Haymitch, a veteran of the Games who counsels Katniss (but is he true to her?) Lawrence is amazing again as Katniss, and Sutherland endows Snow with a hateful scowl that never gives way.
The film looks beautiful. Some top designers were brought in to help with costumes. The most surprising and not-to-miss moment here is Katniss’ knockout wedding dress designed by Cinna with transformation help from Tex Saverio, a 28 year-old Indonesian. That gown alone is worth the price of admission.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire boasts intense engagement, action, danger, pride, hope, wonderful performances, excellent visual effects and background music. There’s also a lot of comedy thanks to the goofy TV host, Stanley Tucci, and the absurdly dressed Effie (Elizabeth Banks), Snow’s PR girl.
My only negative thought about this franchise involves the dark, no-moral messages about killing friends to survive. With so much news and other media coverage about today’s youngsters taking their own lives, I think films like these might increase such tragic actions. Although rated PG-13, I would change that to 14.
(Released by Lionsgate and rated “PG-13” for intense sequences of violence and action, some frightening images, thematic elements, a suggestive situation and language.)
Review also posted at www.reviewexpress.com.