Movie review: ‘Hunger Games: Catching Fire’
If you haven’t seen “The Hunger Games,” last year’s pretty darn good film, based on the also pretty good Suzanne Collins novel of the same name, you’ve got no business seeing this sequel, as you’ll be all at sea about what’s going on. While the rabid fans sitting around you – average age 14 – who saw the first movie seven times will be frantically caught up in the action in this one, you’ll be wondering what it is that you’re not in on.
Hold on, let’s start this again. If you haven’t seen “The Hunger Games,” no problem. This sequel ... I mean this remake ... OK, this rehash of that minor, but slick and nicely crafted film goes nowhere that the first film didn’t go. Both are about a society gone mad, which punishes its citizenry by using a lottery system to pick 12 boys and 12 girls (all between the ages of 12 and 18) to go up against each other in mortal combat, resulting in one living winner, and making everyone watching the event on TV – sort of a twisted “Survivor” – feel lousy that they had once risen up against the still horrible government.
The actors are the same, the first half of the film is nothing but a slow build to the burst of action partway through the second half, and it all ends by letting viewers know that a sequel is right around the corner. These sound like bad elements, but they actually worked the first time around. The major difference between the two films is that the original’s director, Gary Ross, knows what he’s doing behind the camera, and he loaded up the film with inventive style and a few sly winks. Ross was all set to continue on with the series, when he was suddenly let go, replaced by Francis Lawrence, who showed some hope with the underappreciated “Constantine,” then made the underwhelming “I Am Legend,” and the simply leaden “Water for Elephants.”
So here we are again with the anti-social Katniss (an apparently bored Jennifer Lawrence), her survival partner Peeta (the practically lifeless Josh Hutcherson), their drunken mentor Haymitch (thank goodness, a strong Woody Harrelson performance), and the villainous President Snow (a nicely snarling and smarmy Donald Sutherland).
The twist here is that the government’s plot to beat down the public is backfiring. Instead of becoming subservient, they’re getting angry. The idea of making kids kill other kids, then blaming the existence of these games on the populace is just not working. What to do? Hell, punish them even more! Make the survivors of previous bloody contests go up against other survivors. That’ll show ’em!
Except this film forgets to show them showing them. The public is supposed to be watching the games at home on their TVs, and feeling badly about it all. Now, I wasn’t gawking at the screen, wide-eyed and open-mouthed (like that 13-year-old girl sitting next to me) for the entire, extremely long-feeling 146-minute film. I tend to close my eyes when I yawn, and on a few occasions I did peek at my watch to see how much longer I had to sit there. But I don’t recall one moment where anyone, except those nasty government folks, was watching a TV screen. Kind of misses the point of the exercise.
On the positive side, the film features some good visual effects – a killer fog is very creepy – and along with Harrelson and Sutherland, newcomer to the series Philip Seymour Hoffman serves up a nice “is he or isn’t he evil” routine.
But getting back to what’s wrong with this movie, there’s the ending to deal with. It comes soaring out of the blue, spewing forth so much information in so little time that it’s impossible to figure out what’s going on. Then just as suddenly, the script gives us reveal after reveal, suggesting that certain people and situations aren’t at all what they had seemed, yet not bothering to explain any of it. For those of you who just can’t wait to see what happens next, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” comes out on Nov. 21, 2014. Me? I can wait.
Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.
THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE
Written by Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt; directed by Francis Lawrence
With Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Philip Seymour Hoffman